One frustration I had in my radio debate with Sean Pitman was that the topic kept changing in such a rapid-fire way that it was not really possible to discuss anything properly. Happily, I have no such restrictions here at the blog! So let’s devote a post or two to clarifying some of the issues that arose during the debate.

One of Pitman’s talking points was the idea that natural selection is not capable in principle of crafting complex biochemical systems. Of course, this is standard fare for ID folks. Pitman made the claim that there is some level of functional complexity beyond which natural selection cannot go. His only actual argument for this was that a mechanism based on variation and selection has only been observed to produce relatively small amounts of complexity (leaving aside for the moment any questions of precisely how we define complexity.)

A lot of ID writing is devoted to putting meat on the bones of this idea. Michael Behe’s notion of “irreducible complexity” and William Dembski’s notion of “complex specified information” were both intended to provide the missing “in principle” argument for why natural selection cannot produce complex systems. In neither case were these authors successful. Among people who understood some biology and mathematics, Behe and Dembski were quite properly laughed at, since their arguments were really quite bad.

There is a lot to be said against Pitman’s view, obviously, and I said some of it during the debate. But there was one point that I think needs to be made more often in discussions of this topic. When it comes to natural selection, his skepticism reaches dizzying heights. He simply will not accept any sort of circumstantial evidence that natural selection not only can, in principle, craft complex systems, but actually has done so in natural history. At one point he chastised me for claiming that it is not possible to do a meaningful probability calculation regarding the ability of natural selection to craft complexity, claiming that this somehow rendered the theory unscientific.

But all that skepticism goes out the window when it comes to whether intelligence can craft living organisms. Or functional universes for that matter.

I pointed this out during the debate. I asked Pitman why all of his skepticism disappears as soon as the question turns to whether intelligent agents can create living organisms equipped with complex systems. We certainly have no experience of such a thing. Human beings possess the highest level of intelligence with which we have actual experience, but creating universes is many orders of magnitude beyond what such intelligence has been seen to accomplish. Why, then, the willingness to ascribe extraordinary creative abilities to intelligence?

During the debate, Pitman started to reply with an analogy. He argued that we know that intelligence can build outboard motors, which resemble things like the bacterial flagellum. This was taken to be some sort of proof of concept for what intelligence can do.

In the context of his earlier claims, though, this argument is absurd. I am certainly persuaded that intelligence can create relatively simple machines like outboard motors. But that is a far cry from creating a living organism equipped with a flagellum, let alone a functional universe. If we are to judge on what has been observed, which Pitman seems keen to do when it comes to natural selection, then we would have to conclude that intelligence is utterly incapable of doing anything close to what ID folks say it can do.

So the situation is this: With regard to natural selection, we start with the fact that there is no theoretical reason why it cannot craft complex systems. Once you grant that selection has been observed to craft small increases in complexity in short periods of time–and how can you not–then it is hard to find an in principle argument for why it can’t craft more complex systems over longer periods of time. We also have the successes of evolutionary algorithms in solving problems in engineering and medicine, as well as computer simulations of evolution, to serve as a proof of concept. Moving on, for many concrete systems we have strong evidence for how they evolved gradually, and the fact that virtually every complex system studied to date shows clear vestiges of its evolutionary past. It is the universal experience of the scientists who do this work that complex biological systems are incomprehesible from the standpoint of engineering, but become comprehensible as soon as their histories are taken into account. And, most persuasive of all, you have the many practical successes of adaptationist reasoning in biology.

ID folks respond to this by folding their arms, shaking their heads, and repeating ad nauseum that we have no evidence that natural selection can do what we say it can do.

But when it comes to intelligence they are willing to make groundless extrapolations from what is seen to occur, and to hypothesize into existence an awesomely powerful supermind that can do just about anything with acts of its will. This they brazenly claim to be clearly the best explanation for the universe and for life, and they accuse scientists of rejecting it only because of their morbid, anti-religious bias.

Charming. Their argument is no better than claiming that since moles are seen to make molehills, mountains must be made by giant moles. But there are no giant moles, and there is no reason to think the ID proponent’s supermind exists either. Personally, I prefer the relentless success of evolutionary biology to the groundless assertions and empty rhetoric of intelligent design.

Comments

  1. #1 G
    January 21, 2014

    I would guess that this is what happens when someone is exposed to literalist religious doctrines from an early age, and then exposed to science much later. The religious doctrines “make sense” to them in a way that establishes a kind of “causation by miracle” that makes other forms of reasoning seem alien and “weird” to them.

    For which reason we should support teaching scientific method from a very early age. The basics of “observe, hypothesize, test, refine” can probably be translated into a form that’s suitable for teaching even in the early primary grades. And it can be done without touching any kind of “content” that generates controversy.

  2. #2 MNb
    January 21, 2014

    I like your mole analogy.
    In addition: IDers also always fail to explain how an immaterial being is supposed to create, which means he/she/it used and which procedures he/she/it followed. Somehow we have to take this for granted.

  3. #3 Uri
    January 21, 2014

    Chiming in with MNb, the mole analogy is great.

  4. #4 Bjoern
    UK
    January 21, 2014

    While I understand your argument and its purpose, I would be careful using it with creationists.

    It is not inconceivable that eventually in the not too distant future, humans will be able to create life, at which point the creationists could say “see? intelligence can create life! ID is true”, even though humans being able to create life says nothing about the validity of ID.

    Using the universe as an example instead though seems relatively save for the moment.

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    united states
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  6. #6 Phil
    January 21, 2014

    “the idea that natural selection is not capable in principle of crafting complex biochemical systems”

    This is actually just the second half of the objection. The first is whether or not DNA replication errors is a realistic source of selectable traits.

  7. #7 JimR.
    January 21, 2014

    Starting at Bjoern’s comment, it is possible that human’s may/will succeed in creating life. Note that this is a collective achievement of many humans, not of some supermind. If we achieve this in a 100 years, thousands of years from now it will look like it was done instantly.

    Even if another race created our forerunners, it’s still turtles all the way down.

    An article in “Brain Connectivity” reported at http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-01-brain-interactions-differ-religious-non-religious.html stated that “differences in brain interactions that involved the theory of mind, or ToM, brain network … Individuals with stronger ToM activity were found to be more religious.”

    Even if some humans are more likely to be religiously inclined, why does it have to be belief in a supermind?

  8. #8 John Pieret
    http://dododreams.blogspot.com/
    January 21, 2014

    Human beings possess the highest level of intelligence with which we have actual experience, but creating universes is many orders of magnitude beyond what such intelligence has been seen to accomplish. Why, then, the willingness to ascribe extraordinary creative abilities to intelligence?

    I would put it somewhat differently, especially in light of Bjoern’s comment. Since their only example of intelligence “creating” something is human beings, ask them to name anything human intelligence created on its own … with no resort to material means! Those material means (say, chipping a stone axe out of a pebble) leave clear signs of how and why such objects were created and what their purposes are. The IDers resolutely refuse to discuss the when, how and why their “designer” did anything, even calling it a “theological question.”

    Their anaology to human design fails because human intelligence does not “poof” any material thing into existence and, therefore, neccessarily leaves behind evidence of human agency in the material means used. When the IDers start to theorise and present empiric evidence for the when, how and why the designer created life and species, maybe they can be taken somewhat seriously in science. But we all know that is never going to happen, since the only thing they can point to for the when, how and why is the Bible.

  9. #9 John
    January 21, 2014

    “…the topic kept changing in such a rapid-fire way that it was not really possible to discuss anything properly.”

    I figured this out after my first “discussion” (really debate). IDers always debate in the aggressive sense when they have a scientist on the other side.
    The topic did NOT keep changing. The proposition was “ ID is a science” (that includes God made the complexity because ID offers no new science). In my day (10+ years ago) the proposition added “and should be taught alongside science in schools.” ID lost court cases – a neutral debating ground. You were set up.

    I did not get a sense of the new ID initiative, but they obviously have a new strategy. I’m tempted to get Pitman’s book to discover their new strategy – Me, an ardent scientist (anti ID), bought their tapes. Pitman was really well trained and ready for you.

    Your recent post begins to comprehend what they are doing.
    I would add to my previous post: If the proposition is unclear, then you should take 5 seconds in your opening to state your proposition – I suggest, “ID is a religion and belong in a religious setting.” All the statements in your post could support such a proposition. You need to organize them around a central theme. Better in a debate to be supporting the affirmative.

    After listening to your radio show again, I saw another apparently recent thrust of ID is to frame the issue in the Dawkin’s 2 alternatives that I paraphrase: (a) God created the universe in such a way that mankind would arise and complexity would increase. (b) God created the complexity and evolution couldn’t possibly do this – (the ID) case. The first is often phrased differently. I point out both are religious issues and not science related. Go argue with a priest not a science guy. I think a God that is omniscient would do (a) rather than the brute force (b). “..into existence an awesomely powerful supermind that can do just about anything with acts of its will. This they brazenly claim to be clearly the best explanation for the universe…” Agree with them but note this is religion not science and (a) requires an even more intelligent being.

    “One of Pitman’s talking points was the idea that natural selection is not capable in principle of crafting complex biochemical systems.” It is if God created it to be so. This was true 10 years ago. Then the idea was intelligence built a better mousetrap. This was shown ridiculous when a scientist wore a mousetrap without the latch and trigger as a tie clip- the evolutionary step. I wonder what is the evolutionary step for a watch or outboard motor that could be easy to demonstrate. Perhaps noting that watches and outboard motors (with their wheels) were built in evolutionary steps is sufficient.

    “… not possible to do a meaningful probability calculation regarding the ability of natural selection to craft complexity,” true but you let him define probability as the measure. Probability is a measure only within the limits of the assumptions (what is known or theorized). Perhaps Newton and Einstein could be noted to increase understanding in a step wise way. What was the probability Einstein, an outsider in 1905, would revolutionize thought. Science has discovered rapid advance in the past and will do so again (Moore’s law we don’t know how such advances will be made but they have been and will continue to do so). Slow, small changes are not all there is to evolution. Occasionally, a revolution such as the extinction of the dinosaurs happens.

    “ID folks respond to this by folding their arms, shaking their heads, and repeating ad nauseum that we have no evidence that natural selection can do what we say it can do.” If they keep repeating, they increasingly look like a religion – they lose my proposition.

    You could be more effective if you pick and stick to a theme. In my past, classifying ID as religion plays into their weakness.

    I’ve written 2 long posts. I hope to help you the next time, which I presume is your intent in this post. Believe it or not, I would like to help.

    Bjeorn
    The other thrust of the second on the DVDs is the goldilocks thrust which is universe argument. I wonder why it was not used. 10 years ago it was popular ID theme.

  10. #10 Miles Rind
    January 21, 2014

    Interesting reply to the ID position, Jason. I have just started a <a href="http://www.skepticforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=22462"thread recommending your blog post in the Skeptics’ Society Forum.

  11. #11 Miles Rind
    January 21, 2014

    Oops! Trying again: thread.

  12. #12 Verbose Stoic
    January 21, 2014

    This is probably not a good approach. It doesn’t seem like any argument that would make sense here would help the case for natural selection at all.

    Design, in general, involves taking small, less complex pieces and putting them together intelligently to make more complex machines and behaviours. Intelligent analysis involves taking complex systems apart into simpler systems to understand the more complex system. Unless you assume a limit on intelligence that you have no real reason to posit, it is reasonable to assume that if we can generate enough “intelligence”, we could design pretty much any complex system. And if you posit a limit on intelligence, then you limit our understanding as well, which means that if you can’t imagine how an intelligence could design these organisms, it looks like we might not be able to understand them either, and then so much for natural selection.

    In short, it’s not unreasonable to think that if intelligence can’t put together this complex system (ie that we can’t do this intelligently) then nothing can.

    But you don’t want to deny that this can be done intelligently. You want to demonstrate that it can be done “unintelligently”, through the processes of natural selection. So you don’t want to get bogged down in arguing over whether or not even intelligence can do this, especially since for the most part all you’d be able to argue is that we’d need INCREDIBLE intelligence to do it, which seems to support a supermind. So this would only come across as a “Gotcha!” that actually WEAKENS your point.

    And it risks conflating the ideas of intelligence and power here, by making claims that we don’t know how an entity could have the POWER to make soemthing more complex while supposedly trying to demosntrate that it couldn’t be INTELLIGENT enough to do it. This struck me in some of the comments in your post, and especially in John’s comment above: knowing how to do it is intelligence, and doing it is power … and even arguing that again supports the traditional, all-powerful notion of God.

    So, instead of taking this tack, you really just need to push the line that yes, it is possible for this to happen without it being explicitly designed. If they keep denying that, you should just demand that they come up with a test that would demonstrate even the possibility to them. If they can’t, then nothing will convince them and that would be abundantly clear, weakening the objection.

    If they admit the possibility, then you can talk about likelihoods and move on to a different debate.

  13. #13 sean samis
    January 21, 2014

    Jason;

    I think the question of whether an intelligence could create life or a universe is not really helpful here; as several comments say, the eventual creation of life by humans is probable; creating an entire universe is just more complex, but theoretically doable.

    The real question is not whether an intelligence can create a universe or life, but whether they did or whether nature can do the same. If an intelligence is needed to make life or a universe, who made the intelligence’s universe? Who gave them life? If they didn’t need an intelligence to make them, why would we?

    Pointing out the inconsistencies as you did in the last four paragraphs is more useful; and it reveals another difference between religion and reason.

    Personally I would not have engaged in the debate without different ground rules anyway. But that’s just me.

    sean s.

  14. #14 John Justice
    January 21, 2014

    I think that Sean Samis is taking the right approach. What is the context of this creative intelligence? Does it have any history? Any friends? Any material to work with? Motivations? (If these exist, where did they come from?)
    I think people give the whole idea of a creator an unjustified pass because they unthinkingly assume that it is something like a superscientist with a supereducation in working in a community with a long history of creative advances.

  15. #15 eric
    January 21, 2014

    Once you grant that selection has been observed to craft small increases in complexity in short periods of time–and how can you not–then it is hard to find an in principle argument for why it can’t craft more complex systems over longer periods of time.

    I think part of the problem is that there seems to be a natural human bias to underestimate cumulative (i.e., exponential) change. The wheat-grain-on-chess-board tale is much older than the TOE, yet it basically describes the same bias. If you don’t really comprehend the magnitude of change that can be accomplished via doubling the number of grains on each square, then you probably don’t understand the magnitude of change that evolution can bring, either.

    So I don’t think the problem here is 100% religion. What you have here working against the TOE is a reasoning error that would cause people to be naturally skeptical of the process – even IMO in the absence of religion – but which is exacerbated by religious support.

  16. #16 Phil
    January 21, 2014

    eric,

    “bias to underestimate…change”

    There is also a bias towards resorting to inadequate analogy. An actual application gets very difficult, very quickly. Pick any specialized bio-feature, and outline the series of random mutations involved.

  17. #17 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 21, 2014

    Verbose Stoic–

    Unless you assume a limit on intelligence that you have no real reason to posit, it is reasonable to assume that if we can generate enough “intelligence”, we could design pretty much any complex system.

    But we do have a reason to posit it, at least if we adopt the conventions the ID folks say we should adopt. The reason is that the highest intelligence with which we have experience cannot do anything like what ID folks say their designer did. If their main argument against natural selection is that it has not been observed to produce something as complex as an eye, say, then it seems reasonable to me to make the same point about intelligence.

    Creating life in a test tube would not be sufficient since, echoing John Pieret’s point, that would just be rearranging previously existing matter into a new form. The designer the ID folks talk about has the ability to adjust fundamental constants and to create universes from nothing. There is simply nothing to suggest that an intelligent agent with those sorts of abilities is even a plausible possibility.

    In short, it’s not unreasonable to think that if intelligence can’t put together this complex system (ie that we can’t do this intelligently) then nothing can.

    That’s not reasonable at all. Our experience is that intelligence is good at taking preexisting materials and rearranging them into useful forms, but that this ability is limited in clear ways. For example, we have no understanding of how an intelligent agent might create a universe from nothing, or how it might create complex life from non-living materials. Meanwhile, it is natural forces that are constantly surprising us with their productive abilities.

    And it risks conflating the ideas of intelligence and power here, by making claims that we don’t know how an entity could have the POWER to make soemthing more complex while supposedly trying to demosntrate that it couldn’t be INTELLIGENT enough to do it.

    I see the distinction you are making, but I think it’s nitpicking in this context. If the question is whether intelligent agents can bring universes into being, it is unambiguous that you are asking not just about the blueprints, but about the construction itself.

    Sean Samis–

    Personally I would not have engaged in the debate without different ground rules anyway. But that’s just me.

    Just to be clear, this was not any kind of an organized debate. There was no formal proposition on the table, and there were no ground rules of any kind.

  18. #18 John
    January 21, 2014

    JR
    you still miss the point. From IDer viewpoint it was a debate. Further, debating as if it is a science means they win, science looses. As Sean suggest, Better to not debate if you accept the point that ID is a science – It can hurt your career as a scientist.

  19. #19 Wesley Dodson
    January 21, 2014

    What is embodied by all life if not intelligence? Not necessarily Cartesian musings, but savvy about one’s respective environment? Intelligence evolves bit by bit along with life, who’s to say one is independent of the other? I think the idea of intelligent “design” is pretty screwy, but I also think there can be no life without intelligence. Whether there can be intelligence without [organic] life is a different question.

  20. #20 Reginald Selkirk
    January 21, 2014

    MNb #2: In addition: IDers also always fail to explain how an immaterial being is supposed to create, which means he/she/it used and which procedures he/she/it followed.

    Yes, instead of telling us how, they tell us who. But if they told us how, we would probably be able to discard the how. This, in a nutshell, is the entire history of science.

  21. #21 sean samis
    January 21, 2014

    Jason;

    this was not any kind of an organized debate. There was no formal proposition on the table, and there were no ground rules of any kind.

    Jason, thanks for the clarification, but that even more would make me decline the invitation. Without ground rules, it turns into what resembles an argument and the facts are buried. Seems to me it’s more entertainment than clarification. IMHO.

    I do NOT fault your decision to participate, I doubt any harm was done; it’s just not my thing.

    sean s.

  22. #22 eric
    January 21, 2014

    @19:

    What is embodied by all life if not intelligence?

    Intelligence is not embodied by all life. Its embodied by one lifeform only, as far as we can tell. There are a lot of negative examples you seem to have missed. Even just “savvy about ones’ respective environment” is an enormous stretch of the imagination for something like a tree.

    who’s to say one is independent of the other?

    All the non-intelligent life says that life is not dependent on intelligence. The several billion years of earth history where there was life but not intelligence says that life is not dependent on intelligence.

    Now, I guess you could broaden the definition of intelligence to include mere perception and reaction to the environment. But you’d still have no evidence for such a designer, so exactly what is the point of doing it?

  23. #23 Lenoxus
    January 21, 2014

    When you move your hands, it can feel intuitively like they’re being animated by some mysterious force that just happens to occupy your body. Dualism has a deep appeal.

    I like Pascal Boyer’s hypotheses about the origin of religion and supernaturalism. Basically, he says that the “supernatural” involves any mixing-around of basic folk categories such as brute matter, life-spirit, animal-nature and soul/heart/mind, in ways that we don’t normally see in real life. Take an ordinary human and “subtract the body”, and you get a disembodied spirit, or ghost. Take brute matter (such as a rock) and add a soul, and it will move around on its own, supernaturally possessed.

    Alongside ghosts, one of the most popular supernatural ideas is deities. In a sense, deities are like ghosts with much more power (and without being “post-alive” or otherwise formerly in posession of a physical body). That mysterious force animating your hand — what if its influence wasn’t limited to your body? (After all, why should it be, from a dualist perspective?) The further that influence went, the more godlike you would be. At some point you wouldn’t “need” a body anymore, although even as a god you would still “look like” something (everything has to look like something, that’s just in the nature of things, per folk reasoning).

    All I’m getting at here is that the notion that God would have no limits to its power has plenty of intuitive appeal, although so does the notion that the Earth is flat and everything simply falls “down”. When you add the fact that human imagination is seemingly unlimited (although I certainly have trouble imagining, say, four or more spatial dimensions), you can easily get an overinflated sense of the “unlimited” powers of a supposed disembodied intelligence.

    Interleaved with all that Boyer stuff is Daniel Dennett’s recognition that we are hyperactive agent-sensors; it did our ancestors well to suspect that every tree hid a predator and/or an ally. Furthermore, we are highly social, practically “gossip-based” beings. So for us, an “explanation” feels more satisfactory and memorable if it’s oriented to conscious agency. One reason I think Jason’s excellent point about ID doesn’t pop up more often is that it can feel weird even for an atheist to question divine limits. (A human’s internal seven-year-old responds “Uh, magic can do anything, duh! Infinity infinity infinity!”)

    It takes practice to feel comfortable asking things like “Where did Jesus’s Y-chromosome come from? When he turned water into wine, what was the origin of the carbon atoms, and how did they get there? Was it fusion?”

  24. #24 Lenoxus
    January 21, 2014

    Bjoern:

    It is not inconceivable that eventually in the not too distant future, humans will be able to create life, at which point the creationists could say “see? intelligence can create life! ID is true”, even though humans being able to create life says nothing about the validity of ID.

    True, but if they’re being honest, the ID hypothesis is about an omnipotent designer, so the fact that we don’t have reason to believe any present or past “intelligence” is capable of literally anything is still a point in our favor. (Especially with something like “creating the universe”, to repeat your point.)

    When it comes to the creationists’ favorite science to mangle, thermodynamics, those who accept evolution are often accused of believing things which would include absurd consequences like “a tornado can make a 747″ or “energy from the sun would be sufficient to cause a dead plant to come back to life”. At one level (although this isn’t the whole story) what they’re doing is simply inserting the conceptual framework of “God” into our views, like a someone searching inside their computer for the tiny person who does all the work.

    The infuriating thing about their canards about the absurdity of the sun bringing dead beings back to life is that they literally believe this about their “designer”! I, meanwhile, feel quite confident in saying that no intelligence is sufficiently powerful to actually reverse thermodynamics in that way.

    Jim R.:

    Even if some humans are more likely to be religiously inclined, why does it have to be belief in a supermind?

    My guess is that omnimax-monotheism (“there is only one god, and it knows everything and can do everything and is morally perfect”) is simply good at out-competing rival religious memes, at least in some cultures. (“Our god can beat up your god, which doesn’t even exist; our god is a single leader, analogous to a mighty king, but even mightier still.”) Many monotheists are still “intuitive polytheists”, evidenced by the worship of saints, belief in angels, and the practice of prayer. I’d be surprised if either mono- or polytheism were somehow genetic (that would be like a genetic predilection for enjoying rock music). Whether “religion” could be genetic depends on our definition of religion.

  25. #25 Pierce R. Butler
    January 21, 2014

    MNb @ # 2 & Uri @ # 3 – Richard Dawkins used the same “molehill/mountain” analogy years ago (though I can’t find it right at the moment by searching online/my library); maybe he lifted it from another source. Casual quoters all the way down!

  26. #26 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 22, 2014

    I’m pretty sure Barry Lynn used the molehill analogy in the big “Firing Line” debate from the 1990s. It’s a really good analogy, though.

  27. #27 Scott
    San Diego CA USA
    January 22, 2014

    I see so few signs of intelligence in the universe I would be prepared to question its very existence before acknowledging it can DO anything. Why, by the way, ARGUE with irrational people? Isn’t this a bit like arguing with holocaust-deniers or libertarians?

  28. #28 Sean Pitman
    United States
    January 22, 2014

    Jason Rosenhouse wrote:
    “But we do have a reason to posit it, at least if we adopt the conventions the ID folks say we should adopt. The reason is that the highest intelligence with which we have experience cannot do anything like what ID folks say their designer did. If their main argument against natural selection is that it has not been observed to produce something as complex as an eye, say, then it seems reasonable to me to make the same point about intelligence.”

    The problem with this argument, as I explained in my book, “Turtles All the Way Down”, and briefly in our debate is that humans can create machines on far higher levels of functional complexity than can be produced by random mutations/natural selection, or any other mindless mechanism for that matter.

    Beyond this, there is a reason for why this is so – for why there is a limit to the evolutionary mechanism while there is no theoretical limit for the creative potential of intelligent design (given enough intelligence and creative power). The limiting factor for RM/NS is the rarity of selectable sequences in sequence space and the essentially uniformly distribution of these sequences throughout sequence space. Your argument that these very rare selectable sequences are lined up in a nice row “across Lake Superior” simply doesn’t reflect reality. In other words, your argument was simply wrong – and this can be proved by a simple review of the literature on the nature of protein/DNA sequence space.

    What happens in reality is that at higher and higher levels of functional complexity the minimum likely distance to the next closest selectable sequence increases linearly. And, with each linear increase in the minimum distance, the average time for a successful random walk increases exponentially. That’s the key problem for your evolutionary mechanism in a nutshell.

    It is for this reason that there is a dramatic drop off of examples of evolution in observable action as one moves beyond systems that require more than a few hundred specifically arranged amino acid residues. Evolutionary progress simply stalls out, in a predictably exponential manner, well before the level of systems that require a minimum of more than 1000 specifically arranged residues. It just doesn’t happen beyond this level of functional complexity (a concept that is defined in literature by the way), consistent with the problem of an exponential drop in the ratio of selectable vs. non-selectable sequences.

  29. #29 Scott
    January 22, 2014

    Sean Pitman, it is completely question-begging to assert that “humans can create machines on far higher levels of functional complexity than can be produced by random mutations/natural selection, or any other mindless mechanism for that matter.” That claim presupposes that anything produced by natural selection (operating in tandem with random mutation) cannot be very complex. By the way, why isn’t it that every time an unintelligent animal procreates, we have an example of a “mindless mechanism” producing something with “a high level of functional complexity”?

  30. #30 Sean Pitman
    United States
    January 22, 2014

    Scott:
    It is completely question-begging to assert that “humans can create machines on far higher levels of functional complexity than can be produced by random mutations/natural selection, or any other mindless mechanism for that matter.” That claim presupposes that anything produced by natural selection (operating in tandem with random mutation) cannot be very complex.

    It would be begging the question if there were no evidence to support this assertion. The fact is, there is very good evidence to support this assertion – as already noted.

    By the way, why isn’t it that every time an unintelligent animal procreates, we have an example of a “mindless mechanism” producing something with “a high level of functional complexity”?

    I also cover this very common argument in my book. In short, the mindless mechanism is itself very complex and doesn’t produce anything at a higher level of complexity than already exists. In other words, nothing new is produced here that goes beyond what is already pre-programmed. It’s like a bunch of mindless robots being programmed to create cars in a Honda factory. They don’t gained this ability via any mindless mechanism and they are not themselves being “creative” since they cannot go beyond their programming. They can’t make airplanes if they were programmed to make cars. They gained their limited degree of functional informational complexity via intelligent design. The very same thing is true of animal reproduction. The animal is not being creative and the animal’s body isn’t producing anything beyond its original programming.

  31. #31 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 22, 2014

    Hi Sean. Thank you for stopping by and replying. I don’t want to belabor our argument endlessly, especially since I am likely to do some further posts about the issues raised in our discussion, so I will let you have the last word. For now!

  32. #32 Sean Pitman
    January 22, 2014

    Lenoxus:
    I, meanwhile, feel quite confident in saying that no intelligence is sufficiently powerful to actually reverse thermodynamics in that way.

    It has nothing to do with thermodynamics. The Earth is not a closed system. There is plenty of raw energy available to do “useful work”. The problem is that turning raw energy into useful work requires pre-existing systems that can actually take advantage of this energy potential. Such systems require a certain degree of meaningful/functional informational complexity. It is this functional complexity that cannot be generated by mindless mechanisms beyond very low levels of functional complexity without intelligent design. That’s the problem for the ToE and all other mechanisms that think to bypass the requirement for deliberate intelligence to explain higher levels of functional complexity.

    You see, the concepts of informational entropy and thermodynamic entropy are somewhat related, but they aren’t the same thing. Both creationists and evolutionists get confused on this one all the time…

  33. #33 Sean Pitman
    January 22, 2014

    Hi Sean. Thank you for stopping by and replying. I don’t want to belabor our argument endlessly, especially since I am likely to do some further posts about the issues raised in our discussion, so I will let you have the last word. For now!

    All you really need to demonstrate, to yourself, is if your claim regarding the neat little line up of your steppingstones across Lake Superior actually compares to reality. If you actually investigate your claim, you will see that it is in fact mistaken. At this point, let me know what you’ve come up with and we can have a much more interesting conversation.

    All the best until then…

  34. #34 Phil
    January 22, 2014

    “Evolutionary progress simply stalls out…”

    The minimum number of proteins in Ribosome is well over 50. If there is a reasonable case to be made for unintelligent/random self-assembly, sooner or later it will have to leave the safety of analogies and address really staggering complexity head-on.

  35. #35 Verbose Stoic
    January 22, 2014

    If their main argument against natural selection is that it has not been observed to produce something as complex as an eye, say, then it seems reasonable to me to make the same point about intelligence.

    Well, it would be, if that was the main reason we think that intellgence can DESIGN entities like living creatures. But that’s not why we think that obvious, I submit. We think that obvious, I submit, because intelligence is all about doing exactly what they are claiming it can do: designing complex structures from simpler pieces. Given no actual reason to think that we can’t have an unlimited intelligence, most of the people listening to your argument are going to claim that they aren’t the same thing at all, and that we aren’t using the same argument … and, it seems to me, rightly so.

    Even if you succeeded at this, though, it’s hard to see how this would help you. You don’t want people actually doubting that an intelligent entity could design living beings. You want people to stop doubting that natural processes could. That means that you want to do to them what I did to you: step outside of the argument from simple examples and give an independent reason for thinking that natural processes of the type you talk about just do build that sort of complexity. That’s difficult for natural selection, for example, because it clearly isn’t aimed at producing complexity, so you’d probably want to focus on it being able to produce whatever complexity it needs to be successful, and no more. So, it’s a hard argument for you to make, but without doing that you aren’t going to be able to credibly attack the “intelligence can do it” counter.

    Trying to do that for power is even worse, since if you argue that it is not reasonable to think that an entity with the power to act in the world can create these things – ie life from non-life or something from nothing — then you’ll have a really hard time convincing anyone that ANY natural process could actually do it. Add in that the God you’re fighting against is an entity that is as intelligent as it is possible to be and as powerful as it is possible to be — conceptualy — and you end up, in my opinion, supporting the case for a God far better than supporting the alternative.

    Which is why I think this is a bad road to go down; if you actually succeeed, you end up somewhere you don’t want to be, and they always have the possibility of a significant difference to fall back on.

  36. #36 John
    January 22, 2014

    Sean S.
    You were correct. I listened to the debate a third time. JR should not be debating the trained ID debater.
    Did you get a sense of what ID is debating? I get the “ID is a science” part. But what is the “and …” part. In my day it was “… and should be taught in schools alongside science as a alternative to evolution. What is it now?

    I’m tempted to get Sean Pitman’s book when I finish my current project. He is really a very, very good debator.

    Scott
    People who are attracting converts and money takes away from science resources. Especially if their goal is to impose on us their view such as a religious agenda in a science classroom alongside with evolution.

  37. #37 Blaine
    January 22, 2014

    I view the Rosenhouse, Pitman discussion more as advertising. There are fundies who have never even heard the other side of the issue, so Jason’s views can hopefully pique interest in researching the issue. The participants are not just preaching to the choir. Michael Behe’s son is now an atheist after studying the issue – apparently a conclusion he came to after reading Dawkin’s book( Interview here: http://thehumanist.org/september-october-2011/the-humanist-interview-with-leo-behe/ )

    From my point of view, you have the big bang, after things settle down a bit ( cool off ), you have a bunch of Gibb’s free energy. Autocatalyic processes form that export heat and entropy. Some of these processes begin blindly making copies of themselves…these copies in turn make copies of themselves. Some of these are better at making copies than others. Some of these processes combine with other processes creating ever more complex processes – no rocket scientist need apply. Over time, some of these processes interact with their environment…yada yada yada…humans come along and peer back in time and try to figure out why a 99.99999999999999% lifless universe had to be created to support a population of organisms 50% of which have IQs below average (…a statistics joke ).

    The problem with arguing with a Pitman, et al, is that they accept the principle of sufficient reason…ie the iron law of necessity…every effect must have a cause. Trapped in Muchhausen’s trilemma, they choose the branch that says the first cause is self-causing…always existed or whatever. Press them on this, and you are of course into religion. Once you jettison necessity…an assumption like the parallel axiom…and posit contingency… you are off the hook in explaining what started the whole process. It just frigg’n happened.

  38. #38 Michael Fugate
    January 22, 2014

    Sean P., who is the designer and how do you know who it is?

  39. #39 John
    January 22, 2014

    Sean Pitman
    Apologies. I posted my previous post before reading your posts.
    Thanks for you comments in this blog. Some of the same people who commented on the “ID is vacuous” blog are commenting here.
    Do you have any plans to submit papers or abstracts to science meetings such as the APS?
    We all can have a very good discussion if we can keep it collegial. Past discussions have resulted in personnel attacks when dealing with opposition.
    Please comment on Dawkin’s ( I think) 2 alternatives that I paraphrase: (a) God created the universe in such a way that mankind would arise and complexity would increase. (b) God created the complexity and evolution couldn’t possibly do this – (the ID) case. The first is often phrased differently. The evolution model chooses (a). What advantage is there in choosing (b)?

  40. #40 eric
    January 22, 2014

    Sean Pittman @28:

    there is a limit to the evolutionary mechanism while there is no theoretical limit for the creative potential of intelligent design (given enough intelligence and creative power). The limiting factor for RM/NS is the rarity of selectable sequences in sequence space and the essentially uniformly distribution of these sequences throughout sequence space.

    You realize that this argument you just floated supports the TOE, right? The patten of inheritance and genetics we see are full of evidence of the limitations of mutation. Exaptation and co-option of old codes for new purposes is practically ubiquitous. But you’ve just said that if an intelligence designed life on earth, there would be no reason to expect to see any of those limitations in DNA sequences, because the intelligence wouldn’t be bound by them. So if we see them, that’s an observation inconsistent with your ID hypothesis.

    It’s like a bunch of mindless robots being programmed to create cars in a Honda factory.

    No, that’s a terrible analogy because there’s no reproduction and mutation in your robots. This is a common creationist flop; first you analogize evolution to some mechanistic process that doesn’t involve imperfectly reproducing entities that undergo selection. Then say that because your analog entities couldn’t produce anything new, neither could evolution. The problem is, your analogy has failed to capture two of the primary characteristics of the evolving critters.

    And the falseness of your analogy “lesson” is shown by simply correcting it to make the analogy more accurate. Let’s say the robots reproduced, that only some of them survived, and that the ones that survived were the ones that produced lighter, more aerodynamic cars. Would we expect lighter, more aerodynamic cars to result after thousands of generations of robot evolution? Yes!

    turning raw energy into useful work requires pre-existing systems that can actually take advantage of this energy potential. Such systems require a certain degree of meaningful/functional informational complexity.

    Depends on how you define “useful work.” If you define utility as requiring design towards some pre-existing purpose, then what you’re doing is making a circular argument. But remove that limitation on what counts as useful, and practically any natural process counts. Sunlight separates water from salt – useful work. Sun converts gravitational potential and hydrogen into higher Z- nuclear elements and photons – useful work. Plate tectonics raise up land – and raising objects against gravity is practically the classic, textbook definition of useful work! And so on.

    Verbose stoic:

    give an independent reason for thinking that natural processes of the type you talk about just do build that sort of complexity. That’s difficult for natural selection,

    No, not really, because for complexity the issue is what mutation can produce, not what NS can produce. AIUI, we observe and understand mechanisms that allow for the substitution of any base for any other base, as well as numerous other mechanisms that involve larger unit changes (such as duplicating entire sequences). So the mechanisms we already know about are mechanically capable of building any string of DNA characters. That doesn’t mean that every string is equally likely. It doesn’t mean that every string will be produced. And it doesn’t mean that every string we see is best explained by MS+NS (for example, GM foods often have a genetic copyright sequence.) But it does mean that the question of whether RM+NS is capable of building up the complex DNA strings we see in critters has already been answered in the affirmative.
    Again I’d go back to a math analogy. We’ve discovered that nature can do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. You go out in nature and say “whoa! That critter has a huge number! There’s no possible way that number could’ve resulted from natural processes.” But if you understand that addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, you’d understand that the size of the number (i.e., the complexity of the sequence) doesn’t matter. Once you have basic chemical processes for building and exchanging units, that’s all you need to produce any level of complexity – any size of number.

  41. #41 John
    January 22, 2014

    Blaine
    So you accept that the creation of the universe was created with the ability to evolve. Do you accept Leibniz’s other principles?

    I think a model of the creation other than the Big Bang is better.

  42. #42 Scott
    January 22, 2014

    Everyone,
    I think the issue of debating holocaust deniers is a very serious one. I used to teach logic and critical thinking and did a bit of research in those areas as well., but I never came across any serious discussion of the limits of reasonable debate in the sense I am asking about. My great hesitancy in joining debates in some arenas (ID vs evolution among them) is that I feel poised between wasting time (tilting at windmills, one friend once suggested to me), on the one hand, and ignoring what might well become a real threat, on the other. Surely some folks felt the same about the incipient Nazi party before Hitler came to power.

    John,
    You write: “Scott People who are attracting converts and money takes away from science resources. Especially if their goal is to impose on us their view such as a religious agenda in a science classroom alongside with evolution.”

    When you say that, are you responding to my question re. why bother debating people who have their minds SO made up they have traveled beyond the reach of reason?

    If so, that’s a decent response–i.e., the argument’s intended audience isn’t really the proselytizing ID folks one appears to be responding to (if taken at at face value), but other, more reasonable people. Is that your point? (I wonder about this in part because I am trying to decide whether to publish a refutation of certain libertarian arguments for eliminating public law in favor of private dispute-resolution companies. Are these people harmless cranks or potential Nazis, so to speak? Perhaps I should rethink my intended audience.)

  43. #43 eric
    January 22, 2014

    Scott,
    I don’t think Nazi analogies are at all useful here. The folk who want to undemine evolution education or add creationism to school curricula are certainly doing something I think is unconstitutional and a bad pedagogical idea. But they aren’t Nazis. Creationists aren’t talking about murdering unbelievers en masse.

    Secondly, the nice thing about both internet and radio (…and then radio interviews made available on the internet!) is that you aren’t just talking to the narrow, primary audience. You’re talking to the secondary audience too – in internet parlance, the lurkers. So, in my mind, it is often of value to lay out good educational material in favor of the TOE and sound science education, or against creationism, even if you don’t think the individual you’re arguing with is going to be convinced.

  44. #44 Blaine
    January 22, 2014

    @41 “So you accept that the creation of the universe was created with the ability to evolve.”

    Gosh, I’m not sure that is the right message to draw from my post. From my understanding Leibnitz accepted the principle of non-contradiction. This is probably the only one of his ‘principles’ I agree with. Discussion would cease if one didn’t.

    I am not fixated on how universe we find ourselves in got started…the big bang seems to be the concensus position…but I am open to other models. That evolution occurs is a fact. The debate is only about the process(es) and path ( path dependency ). I don’t like the word ‘created’. The universe just ‘is’ , and is apparently expanding which leads to the extrapolation that it expanded from a singularity…yada yada.

    I prefer to assume contingency over necessity because it removes the idea that there is a TOE which is the thought of a single mind. My axiom is: It all could have been other than it in fact is which is something Leibnitz would never have said.

  45. #45 John
    January 22, 2014

    Scott
    10-20 years ago a great deal of time and money was spent in getting ID out of public education as a science. The kids exposed to this were poorly prepared for college in the sciences. I dislike the nazi analogy but the point is there.

    You commented: “I am trying to decide whether to publish a refutation of certain libertarian arguments for eliminating public law in favor of private dispute-resolution companies.”
    I’d like to join such a discussion. But your choice of crank or nazi is incorrect. I hope you avoid the habit of ascribing “nazi” to everyone that disagrees with you.

  46. #46 John
    January 22, 2014

    Blaine
    Yes. That was my question. I side with Newton in the debates except for the action at distance stuff.
    You accept an everlasting universe of the steady state or cyclic models?
    I think there is a TOE and I’ve written papers about it. I’d like to read your contributions.

  47. #47 Scott
    January 22, 2014

    Eric and John, good points. The meta-question about rational debate that I’m posing remains, though I apologize for appearing to stoop to name-calling; I retract my analogy and replace it with … how about global-warming deniers or all-government-is-evil affirmers or cigarette-smoking-causes-cancer deniers, etc. ? Incidentally, the Nazi analogy was really intended to cut both ways, since I imagine it is often the case that folks on either side of an intractable debate regard the other side as beyond the reach of reason and as using improper, non-rational, and even in some cases coercive methods. I am fairly certain that many ID proponents regard “evolutionists” as akin to Nazis (forcing atheism on school-children etc.), and I think it’s important for both sides to see this aspect of things. I imagine abortion-opponents, e.g., would not mind the Nazi analogy as a description of abortion proponents, even though the latter might well believe many of THEIR opponents are plain blind to the truth and are using coercive tactics.

    My question about the limits of rational debate is meant to address sincere believers on both sides of this particular debate. Sometimes investigation reveals that reason has been suppressed by profit-motives, of course, but I’m pretty sure that’s true of only a very small minority of people on either side of the ID debate, people who just happen to be opportunists (some of the other debates I mention, well, a lot of money has been doing a lot of talking).

  48. #48 eric
    January 22, 2014

    Scott,
    The limits of rational debate are that you do it for the audience members who (disagree with you but who) are open to rational argument. While that’s an obvious and somewhat tautological statement, its value because while that’s not going to be all of them, IMO it is a mistake to assume it’s none of them.

    I also think that the “my opponent is irrational” opinion neglects the fact that people have good times and bad times, good days and bad days. You catch someone at a bad time or when they’re on the defensive, yeah, they may not respond to rational argument (and that is true for pretty much everyone, not just creationists). But if you leave you essay or argument out there, published, ready for a future read, that very same “irrational” individual may be much more receptive to it at some later time.

  49. #49 Michael Fugate
    January 22, 2014

    VS says, “Add in that the God you’re fighting against is an entity that is as intelligent as it is possible to be and as powerful as it is possible to be — conceptualy — and you end up, in my opinion, supporting the case for a God far better than supporting the alternative.”

    As Eric points out, if this designer is as unlimited as you claim, then why reuse parts when a complete redesign would make more sense? For instance, why use a standard terrestrial mammal skull with the nostrils on the anterior end right above the mouth and in order to get a whale shove all the bones behind the nostrils posteriorly to move the nostrils to the dorsal surface? Why not reroute the nostrils through the frontals or parietals? No “intelligent” designer in a human sense would have done that.

    That’s just it with the whole ID thing – you need to tell us exactly what the designer did/does. Where does designing start and evolution end? As soon as you can, let us know and then we can talk. Just saying that can’t happen, is useless.

    And of course, an intelligent designer could have designed living things, the problems are we don’t know who this is exactly, how it designs, and given everything we know about organisms – if they are designed they don’t appear to be designed very intelligently or at least not by something that is supposed to be the most intelligent thing possible.

  50. #50 MNb
    January 22, 2014

    Note how Sean P also fails to address the points I made in @2. His argument is just “science can’t explain this” (which is questionable, as pointed out) hence god – pardon me, an intelligent designer. This is of course a god of the gaps, nothing better than Zeus (or Thor, if you happen to be Germanic) being responsible for thunder and lightning. He doesn’t offer a positive alternate theory, capable of making testable predictions etc.
    Before we take him seriously he should answer Adam Lee’s two questions:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/the-two-questions/

    My bet is he will neglect him, which of course also is an answer, thus showing his intellectual dishonesty – his comments are not about science.

    @Scott: “why bother debating people who have their minds SO made up they have traveled beyond the reach of reason?”
    This is an important question indeed. If there is a positive answer the debater should realize that using reason alone never is enough. One must be willing to use cheap rhetorical tricks as well and even to provoke the opponent (to say silly and/or absurd things for instance).
    Nice guys or not, IDers are not interested in the truth – they already are convinced that they know the truth and thus in principle every argument in favour of their unshakable conclusions is good enough. That’s the foundation of their intellectual dishonesty.

  51. #51 sean samis
    January 22, 2014

    Sean Pitman;

    You wrote (in #28) that “humans can create machines on far higher levels of functional complexity than can be produced by random mutations/natural selection, or any other mindless mechanism for that matter.

    When Scott called that “question-begging” in #29, your replied that “It would be begging the question if there were no evidence to support this assertion. The fact is, there is very good evidence to support this assertion – as already noted.

    Can you please cite for us some of this “very good evidence to support” your assertion that “humans can create machines on far higher levels of functional complexity than can be produced by random mutations/natural selection, or any other mindless mechanism for that matter.” The existence of this evidence has been claimed, but I don’t see it here.

    In #32 you wrote that “turning raw energy into useful work requires pre-existing systems that can actually take advantage of this energy potential. Such systems require a certain degree of meaningful/functional informational complexity. It is this functional complexity that cannot be generated by mindless mechanisms beyond very low levels of functional complexity without intelligent design.

    Can you cite evidence that naturally occurring mechanisms (“mindless mechanisms”) lack the capacity to create living things?

    eric in #40 asked some interesting questions and makes some interesting points; it would be helpful if you were able to respond.

    sean s.

  52. #52 Blaine
    January 22, 2014

    @46
    These are all big questions. A few things give me pause concerning a TOE. That QM and GR have not been unified may say something fundamental about reality. We have yet to detect proton decay and no one has ever discovered a magnetic monopole. The neutrino is left handed…breaks in symmetry are all over the place.
    A TOE is the scientific equivalent of the religious belief in oneness. It is merely a prejudice, an assumption. It is the result of doing science in a monotheistic culture. It often seems to me to be part of a larger religious quest for wholeness, for certainty. When we find the TOE, we have found GOD.
    (BTW – there is an interesting philosophical history to this question which was pursued under the guise of theology in Suarez, Scotus, Biel, Occham, etc – whether law is an act of the intellect or an act of the will – if of the will, then it brings in voluntarism and thus contingency – ethically they are command theorists – their solution to Euthyphro ). Most modern Abrahamic theorists are voluntarists so divine revelation becomes important because the big guy has to tell them what he was thinking when he created everything because it would not be deducible in a contingent world – good bye natural theology and natural law – perhaps this is the source of their uneasiness in accepting refutations through modus tollens.
    For example, if the biblical exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt actually occurred, there would be archaelogical evidence. There is no archaelogical evidence of a Hebrew exodus from Egypt, therefore there is no historical basis for Judaism and ergo Christianity…modus tollens. Once their source of dvine revelation is gone, everything is gone. I am not sure what ID buys any of these people. Even if ID was established, they would still have a bible that has been thoroughly falsified and discredited.

  53. #53 Lenoxus
    January 23, 2014

    Blaine:

    When we find the TOE, we have found GOD.

    God is just the idea that got here first. To be more precise, it is the winner out of a set of very old and basic ideas called religion. Religion/God doesn’t get to claim everything similar that came after it; that would be like… I don’t know… like saying that all of today’s video games are “really” in the spirit of William Shakespeare, or something (although I’m sure a clever literary critic has made an argument like that).

  54. #54 eric
    January 23, 2014

    Blaine,

    A few things give me pause concerning a TOE. That QM and GR have not been unified may say something fundamental about reality. We have yet to detect proton decay and no one has ever discovered a magnetic monopole. The neutrino is left handed…breaks in symmetry are all over the place.

    I am not sure what any of that has to do with the TOE, which occurs at the scale of large molecules. Because of scale differences, I am not sure any answer to those questions would impact the TOE significantly because it won’t impact the observable facts on which the TOE is based (which do not include observed subatomic particle behavior). If the proton decays, animals descend with modification. If it doesn’t…animals still descend with modification.

    A TOE is the scientific equivalent of the religious belief in oneness. It is merely a prejudice, an assumption.

    Not an assumption; it rests firmly on observations. Children are not clones of their parents – so we observe descent with modification. Not every individual in a species has the same number of kids, so we observe differential reproductive rates. Sometimes (but not always), the differing number of kids is due to one animal dying of disease, hunger, or conflict when the other animal survives through it. That is observed natural selection. Blind cave fish in place A genetically and physically most closely resemble sighted non-cave fish around place A; they do not resemble blind cave fish in place B. That is observed biogeographic distribution consistent with speciation via descent with modification.
    The new synthesis (modern TOE) puts these facts together along with an understanding of genetics to show how known biochemical reactions could create all the needed modification.

  55. #55 Sean T
    January 23, 2014

    @Blaine #52 and Eric #54:

    I think (at least the way I read Blaine’s post) that there is some confusion here. I believe (and please feel free to correct me if wrong) that Blaine was using the acronym “TOE” to stand for theory of everything, not theory of evolution. Eric, your criticisms are certainly valid if I am wrong, but irrelevant if I’m right.

    Assuming that you are discussing theory of everything, not evolution, Blaine, I still object to your characterization of the search for a theory of everything as being merely an assumption. The major theme running throughout the entire history of physics has been the utility of unification.

    The main outcome of the scientific revolution was the unification of physical law on earth with physical law elsewhere, with its culmination in the first universal laws of physics, Newton’s laws of motion and universal gravitation. The next major advance was the unification of the studies of electricity, magnetism and optics, which were completely separate until Maxwell. Then came relativity, with its unification of space and time, and then quantum mechanics which led to the unification of the concepts of wave and particle, as well as the unification of the weak and electromagnetic forces.

    It certainly seems reasonable, in light of these advances, to pursue further unification and attempt to unify all four forces into one framework. Keep in mind that, despite its name, that’s all a theory of everything seeks to do. A theory of everything would NOT explain all phenomena. A theory of everything would not give us any god-like predictive abilities, just a greater understanding of the universe than what we currently possess.

  56. #56 Sean T
    January 23, 2014

    @Scott,

    Regarding the limits of rational debate, I am not so sure that it’s always fair to characterize one’s opponents as irrational. I think it’s more common for both sides of a debate to be perfectly rational, but still come to contradictory conclusions. The reason is that often both sides are arguing rationally, but doing so from contradictory premises. The abortion debate is a good example. The pro-life side argues starting from the notion that an embryo is a true human from the time of conception. The pro-choice side argues that the developing fetus is not a true human until some later time. Both sides would (hopefully!) accept the premise that it is impermissable to intentionally kill a human. It’s obvious that both sides would reach contradictory conclusions based on each side’s own accepted premises.

    Certainly, that’s not to say that there are not irrational people. We should just keep in mind, however, that not everyone accepts the same premises in a debate as we do, and we should probably work out what premises we are using as the basis for our respective arguments.

  57. #57 eric
    January 23, 2014

    Sean T and Blaine –
    Ah, my apologies for misunderstanding the acronym. Though I would still object to a TOE being called an “assumption.” Its an extrapolation but not an unreasonable one.

    Over the last several centuries science has recorded millions of observable phenomena and slowly unified them under a smaller and smaller number of fundamental explanations. It would be narcissistic to think that we are at a special time in history when this trend won’t or can’t continue. Far more likely, there is nothing special about our current level of knowledge and the historically observed trend of unification will continue.
    Whether it will continue to ‘one single explanation’ is a curious philosophical question, but doesn’t impact the practice of science at all. Even now we use different “local approximations” of fundamental theories to solve different problems, and if tomorrow we discover a unified Theory of Everything, then the day after tomorrow we will still use a host of other local approximations to solve different problems.

  58. #58 Blaine
    January 23, 2014

    Yes, I was using TOE as an abbreviation for ‘Theory of Everything’. My mistake really…I didn’t realize at the time that it could also stand for ‘Theory of Evolution’ until it was pointed out…duh.

    My skepticism about a final ‘Theory of Everything’ is similar to that found in Gleiser’s book _A Tear at the Edge of Creation_(http://www.amazon.com/Tear-Edge-Creation-Imperfect-Universe/dp/B0048ELEWC).

    I’m OK with our progress towards a TOE as asymptotic. Although, not being able to achieve a final TOE would be consistent with the universe being completely accidental which is my view

  59. #59 Blaine
    January 23, 2014

    One thought, actually achieving a final ‘theory of everything’ would mean that the universe is ultimately objectively meaningful…wouldn’t it? As an atheist and nihilist, my view is that objective meaning does not exist…in the Platonic sense. Sure there is signification. All organisms attribute significance ( meaning ) to signs in their environment, but that does not mean objective meaning exists in the big ‘M’ sense as a theist would posit, or a moral realist would for that matter.

  60. #60 MNb
    January 24, 2014

    Physicists usually use GUT – Grand Unified Theory – iso TOE.

  61. #61 Phil
    January 24, 2014

    Baine,

    “For example, if the biblical exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt actually occurred, there would be archaelogical evidence. There is no archaelogical evidence of a Hebrew exodus from Egypt…”

    The writers referenced in this article would probaby quarrel with you about this.
    http://www.bibleandscience.com/archaeology/exodus.htm

  62. #62 Verbose Stoic
    January 24, 2014

    eric,

    Sorry for the delay in replying.

    Anyway, your reply kinda misses my point, which is that we do have more reason to think that intelligence can produce massive complexity than a purely natural evolutionary process can, which is by appealing to what they are. Intelligence can be summarized as taking complexities and reducing them to simplicities and taking simplicities and combining them to get complexities. Thus, that an unbounded intelligence can produce unboundedly complex structures, and do so for a purpose, is not unreasonable; you’d have to give a reason to claim that intelligence is not unbounded, in principle, to cause us to doubt that. The same, however, is not true of natural evolution, mutation, and natural selection. Mutation provides changes, but while the things it is changing may be able to produce an unlimited amount of complex patterns mutation, in and of itself, doesn’t “aim” at either simplicity or complexity; things just change. Natural selection, on the other hand, selects purely for function; being complex and working has no advantage over simple and working. In fact, rather the converse is true; since more complex systems have more things that can go wrong, natural selection in and of itself should always prefer simpler mechanisms over more complex ones, as simpler mechanism are a) easier to produce, b) generally less costly to run and c) are less prone to falling apart over a simple error. So we then have reasons to think that while intelligence tends to produce things that are at least more complicated than absolutely necessary — even if under some conditions that complexity might be useful — natural selection should tend the other way.

    Now, an argument can be made from what I just said and your argument that natural selection is capable of producing any amount of complexity it needs to produce the extra functionality. Which is true, and leads to a potential test of the two theories: look for unnecessary complexity. Natural selection should tend away from it, while it is perfectly consistent with intelligence. Of course, given the process in practice this is difficult to do since natural selection isn’t necessarily ideal, but too much complexity that seems to be there mainly for “show” or that is future looking is evidence of intelligence over the semi-random natural process.

    Michael Fugate,

    I’m dealing with one argument of Jason’s that i think is bad and that he really shouldn’t use as winning on that point, in my opinion, hurts his case more than helps it. I need not defend EVERY argument or claim that ID is true to do that, surely.

  63. #63 John
    January 24, 2014

    MNb
    The Theory of Everything is defined in several ways. I like the idea it is a single model of the big and the small. Some say a unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics. The particle physics and quantum mechanics adherents refer to the ToE as a GUT to include gravity (hence the big). I started from the cosmology side and propose application to the small (light).

  64. #64 John
    January 24, 2014

    Verbose Stoic
    That a powerful, omniscient being would create complexity seems odd. Wouldn’t he/it create the process of evolution and let the complexity develop. That is, do the minimum energy expenditure to achieve his ends whatever they are.

    I think the more complex mechanism may contend in evolution because of energy efficiency. The conflict in nature seems to be between the simpler vs the more energy efficient. There are many survival strategies. So far as I know, bacteria may well win the battle to continue DNA in another solar system. Humans still don’t know how to get off this rock, this death trap. Bacteria in rocks can survive the explosion.

  65. #65 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 24, 2014

    Verbose Stoic–

    Anyway, your reply kinda misses my point, which is that we do have more reason to think that intelligence can produce massive complexity than a purely natural evolutionary process can, which is by appealing to what they are. Intelligence can be summarized as taking complexities and reducing them to simplicities and taking simplicities and combining them to get complexities. Thus, that an unbounded intelligence can produce unboundedly complex structures, and do so for a purpose, is not unreasonable; you’d have to give a reason to claim that intelligence is not unbounded, in principle, to cause us to doubt that. The same, however, is not true of natural evolution, mutation, and natural selection.

    I think this is completely backward. We have a strong reason for thinking that an “unbounded intelligence” is simply a contradiction in terms. That reason is that we have no experience of anything remotely like that, to the point where it’s not even clear that it’s coherent to hypothesize such a thing. Our universal experience is that intelligence is strongly limited in what it can do. Specifically, intelligence can rearrange existing matter in useful ways, but there is nothing to suggest that intelligence has the ability to bring a universe into being with an act of will. Moreover, our experience is that intelligence is something that requires a physical substrate, namely brains, to exist. Given that, the idea of an unembodied intelligence that creates universes seems like a big stretch.

    These points take on special importance in the context in which I was writing. According to Sean Pitman, the reason for being skeptical of natural selection is that it has not been observed to create very complex adaptations. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out in reply that intelligence has not been seen to do anything remotely like what Sean says it can do. More generally, ID folks claim that their conclusion is just a straightforward extrapolation based on what intelligence is known to do. I think it’s reasonable to point out that it is no such thing.

    On the other hand, a mechanism based on variation and selection plainly has the ability, in principle, to craft very complex things. And there is ample scientific evidence that natural selection has, indeed, crafted actual adaptations in organisms.

    So, if we are “appealing to what they are” I’d say that natural selection is plainly more up to the task than intelligence is.

  66. #66 Sean Pitman
    January 24, 2014

    According to Sean Pitman, the reason for being skeptical of natural selection is that it has not been observed to create very complex adaptations. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to point out in reply that intelligence has not been seen to do anything remotely like what Sean says it can do. More generally, ID folks claim that their conclusion is just a straightforward extrapolation based on what intelligence is known to do. I think it’s reasonable to point out that it is no such thing.

    As the title of my book suggests, it’s either “turtles all the way up” or “turtles all the way down”. You claim that a mindless mechanism is the most likely explanation for all that exists while I claim that an intelligence source is the most likely explanation. In order to determine which claim is most likely true, one is required to extrapolate from very limited information. However, I believe that a reasonable extrapolation is possible based on what is currently known about which way the turtles are going.

    In other words, is RM/NS known to be more or less creative than what known intelligent agents (i.e., humans) are able to produce? The answer is quite clear. The mechanism of RM/NS is far far less creative, in a given amount of time (observable time) than is ID. Intelligence can create very complex machines in very short order. This simply isn’t true for RM/NS.

    The obvious question is, why not? Why is ID so much quicker than RM/NS beyond very low levels of functional complexity? Why does the mechanism of RM/NS show a truly exponential decline in creative ability with each linear step up the ladder of functional complexity? Well, the answer is quite clear for anyone who has carefully considered the nature of sequence space and noticed the exponential decline in potentially beneficial vs. non-beneficial and isolated nature of clusters or islands of sequences with the same type of function – and how this isolation becomes exponentially more and more dramatic with each step up the ladder of functional complexity.

    This observation can be extrapolated to get a very good idea as to the limitations of mindless mechanisms like RM/NS.

    The same is true of ID. There are various levels of intelligence and knowledge. The ancient peopled would have considered some of our technology “miraculous” from their perspective. And, there is therefore no reason to doubt that a few thousand years from now discoveries will be made that will seem truly miraculous from our current perspective.

    Therefore, it seems like there is no theoretical limit for the creative potential of intelligent design, while there is a very clear limitation, that is actually measurable, for RM/NS.

    On the other hand, a mechanism based on variation and selection plainly has the ability, in principle, to craft very complex things. And there is ample scientific evidence that natural selection has, indeed, crafted actual adaptations in organisms.

    This simply isn’t true, except in the case where your imagined steppingstones are very closely spaced and lined up in a very neat line across Lake Superior. This is the only situation in which RM/NS could “craft very complex things.” The only problem, of course, is that this imagined scenario of yours simply doesn’t reflect reality. There simply is no such neatly spaced line of steppingstones across higher levels of sequence space and there is no rational reason or evidence why there might every be such a situation – outside of intelligent design that is. Mindless natural mechanisms simply don’t produce such neat closely-spaced lines of steppingstones. It just doesn’t happen.

    So, if we are “appealing to what they are” I’d say that natural selection is plainly more up to the task than intelligence is.

    This an amazing claim that goes against everything we currently know about the creative potential of both intelligent design and natural selection. To attribute greater creative potential to natural selection, over any given span of time, than intelligent design, is based on nothing but wishful thinking. All the empirical evidence that we have in hand strongly counters this claim. In other words, science, real science, simply doesn’t support this just-so story telling….

  67. #67 John
    January 24, 2014

    From my time opposing creationism and ID: http://www.csun.edu/~vcgeo005/wise.htm
    “Creationism has its philosophical roots in the Darwinian debates of the last century, but its welding into a potent political movement has been largely a phenomenon of the last half of the 20th century (Numbers, 1993). In recent years Creationism has grown into a force capable of challenging orthodox science in the arena of public opinion (Schmidt, 1996). After federal courts struck down attempts to force teaching of creation “science” in the public schools, Creationists have taken a new approach. They have begun pushing laws requiring that any teaching of evolution in the public schools be balanced against or accompanied by teaching of the “evidence against evolution.” In effect, this “evidence” consists mostly of Creationism’s religion-based pseudo-science. Such laws, if enacted, would have chilling effects on science teaching and textbook content and would lend governmental support to one particular religious interpretation.
    The real battles (Schmidt 1996) between traditional science and Creationism are likely to be fought on a state by state, school board by school board basis in a form that will require active, grass-roots participation by large numbers of American scientists. Unfortunately, most of us are essentially unarmed for such battles. While Creationists regard this as a holy war worthy of their almost undivided attention, most scientists have given it short shrift, either by ignoring it or by laughing at such pretensions of “science.” As a result, most scientists remain so unfamiliar with the claims, methods, and arguments of Creationists that they are unprepared for participation in any public confrontation. A notable exception was the late Robert Dietz of Arizona State University who used both science and humor of the cartoons of John Holden (Dietz and Holden, 1987) to actively debate the local Creationists. Excellent descriptions of methods used by Creationists to win such debates, at least in the public mind, are given by Thwattes and Awbrey (1993), Fezer (1993), and Arthur (1996). To develop any level of preparation for such arguments and methods, one requires copious time as well as access to the diffuse mass of “gray” publications, religious tracts, and other in-house Creationist publications. For those without the time or access to such resources, this article is intended as a “crash-course” introduction to Creationist history, ideas, and methods as well as some factual tools to oppose Creationist claims and a few of the best cartoons to inject a bit of humor into any discussion”
    Also: http://www.creationtheory.org/

    Evolution and devolution
    One of the most common misunderstandings of MODERN evolution is that one species can be “more highly evolved” than another, that evolution is necessarily progressive and/or leads to greater “complexity”, or that its converse is “devolution”. Evolution provides no assurance that later generations are more intelligent, complex, or morally worthy than earlier generations. The claim that evolution results in progress is not part of modern evolutionary theory; it derives from earlier belief systems that were held around the time Darwin devised his theory of evolution.

    In many cases evolution does involve “progression” towards more complexity, because the earliest lifeforms were extremely simple compared to many of the species existing today, and there was nowhere to go but “up”. However, there is no guarantee that any particular organism existing today will become more intelligent, more complex, bigger, or stronger in the future. In fact, natural selection will only favor this kind of “progression” if it increases chance of survival, i.e. the ability to live long enough to raise offspring to sexual maturity. The same mechanism can actually favor lower intelligence, lower complexity, and so on if those traits become a selective advantage in the organism’s environment. One way of understanding the apparent “progression” of lifeforms over time is to remember that the earliest life began as maximally simple forms. Evolution caused life to become more complex, beause becoming simpler wasn’t advantageous. Once individual lineages have attained sufficient complexity, however, simplifications (specialization) are as likely as increased complexity. This can be seen in many parasite species, for example, which have evolved simpler forms from more complex ancestors.

    Self-organization and entropy
    It is claimed that evolution, by increasing complexity without supernatural intervention, violates the second law of thermodynamics. This law posits that in an idealised isolated system, entropy will tend to increase or stay the same. Entropy is a measure of the amount of energy in a physical system that cannot be used to do mechanical work, and in statistical thermodynamics it is envisioned as a measure of the statistical “disorder” at a microstate level. The claim ignores the fact that biological systems are NOT isolated systems.

    Information
    Some assert that evolution cannot create information, or that information can only be created by an intelligence. Physical information exists regardless of the presence of an intelligence, and evolution allows for new information whenever a novel mutation or gene duplication occurs and is kept. It does not need to be beneficial or visually apparent to be “information.” However, even if those were requirements they would be satisfied with the appearance of nylon-eating bacteria, which required new enzymes to efficiently digest a material that never existed until the modern age.

  68. #68 John
    January 24, 2014

    “The leaders of the ID movement are filling a vacuum left by scientists unwilling to engage the public about the true nature of their work. Interacting with people on the other side is the only way to remedy this situation.”
    Quote JR

    Since the liberal government has repeatedly dictated details such as what should be taught, ID must be vigorously fought as JR noted. They avoid science and courtrooms now because they lost there. The fight in their selected medium – the public – must be won.

    But we must be effective and win the debates in public not on these science blogs. I suggest we should concentrate on means and arguments on how to win in public and not of what science says. We should help Jason not argue his science, which is good but science itself admits several models. This is part of the difficulty, ID being a religion insists on the one “right” thought. Science only rejects or not rejects. Science doesn’t prove and observations may support several models. The method of choice among the models is the key.

    I think part of this is an attack on “What constitutes science?”. This is how courtroom battles were won – define science then apply to ID. Prediction and usefulness struck a nerve on SP’s site. The stupidity of his counter is an opening.

    I agree with Sean S. Scientist should not get themselves into such predicaments.

    How long has ID been around? Didn’t it redirect from creationism in the 80’s?

    From SP
    “You see, this argument, as presented by Dr. Rosenhouse, undermines science in general. It undermines the very concept of predictive value an estimating the likelihood that a particular hypothesis was actually responsible or the true explanation for a particular event.”

    “These characters must also be properly arranged, relative to each other in 3D space, before the function in question can be realized to any useful or selectable degree of functionality. I fail to see how the meaning for this concept is unclear? It is very clear. It is so clear in fact that small children can understand it.”

    Then he proceeds to instruct you in your field. What is his field? What expertise does he have? Look it up – little. Certainly, not enough expertise to be lecturing you.

  69. #69 sean samis
    January 24, 2014

    John asked “How long has ID been around? Didn’t it redirect from creationism in the 80’s?

    Try at least since 1802. ID is just an updated version of the “watchmaker argument” used by William Paley in his tome “Natural Theology” which you can still find on the internet.

    Interesting side note: this make ID older than Darwin, who was born in 1809; on the same day that Abraham Lincoln was born.

    sean s.

  70. #70 Jason Rosenhouse
    January 24, 2014

    Sean Pitman–

    In other words, is RM/NS known to be more or less creative than what known intelligent agents (i.e., humans) are able to produce? The answer is quite clear. The mechanism of RM/NS is far far less creative, in a given amount of time (observable time) than is ID. Intelligence can create very complex machines in very short order. This simply isn’t true for RM/NS.

    The relevant comparison is not what human intelligence can create in the short run versus what natural selection can create in the short run. The question is what natural selection can create in the long run. Moreover, I have no idea what your metric of creativity is. When applied to problems in engineering and medicine, evolutionary algorithms routinely find solutions to problems that had eluded scientists applying other methods. The successes of breeders in modifying the form of organisms in short periods of time are likewise impressive. None of this supports the rather facile comparisons you are trying to make.

    The same is true of ID. There are various levels of intelligence and knowledge. The ancient peopled would have considered some of our technology “miraculous” from their perspective. And, there is therefore no reason to doubt that a few thousand years from now discoveries will be made that will seem truly miraculous from our current perspective.

    Therefore, it seems like there is no theoretical limit for the creative potential of intelligent design, while there is a very clear limitation, that is actually measurable, for RM/NS.

    I’ll address your claims about sequence space in the Probability and Evolution post. Your remarks about intelligence, though, are an utterly breathtaking extrapolation. I can’t even imagine how you go from, “We have technology today that would have seemed miraculous to the ancients,” to “There’s no limit on what intelligence can do.”

    Your claim is especially dubious in light of the fact that there seem to be clear limits on what intelligence can do. So far as we know, intelligence cannot bring universes into being or adjust fundamental constants. Nor have we been able to create life of any sort, much less life equipped with complex biochemical machines. And since every intelligence we know of is embodied, it is not clear at all that an unembodied intelligence is even a possibility.

    This an amazing claim that goes against everything we currently know about the creative potential of both intelligent design and natural selection. To attribute greater creative potential to natural selection, over any given span of time, than intelligent design, is based on nothing but wishful thinking. All the empirical evidence that we have in hand strongly counters this claim. In other words, science, real science, simply doesn’t support this just-so story telling….

    Not “greater creative potential” (whatever that means). Just different creative potential. For example, the physicists tell us that matter spontaneously creates itself all the time. I am not aware of any instance of intelligent agents creating matter from nothing. As for the relative merits of natural selection versus ID, you simply ignored all the evidence I cited, briefly, at the end of this post.

  71. #71 Michael Fugate
    January 24, 2014

    VS,
    I am not sure the concept of something that is maximally intelligent makes much sense – how would one know if it were?

    I will grant that something intelligent could in principal design and execute living things, but the diversity of life on earth in no way would have us think it was designed by any such intelligence.

    If someone wishes me to take a designer seriously, then he or she must say who the designer is and how this is known, what it is exactly that the designer designed and built, and how the building was done.

  72. #72 John
    January 24, 2014

    When did creationism acquire the name ID?

  73. #73 Blaine
    January 24, 2014

    @61

    The consensus opinion after 100 years of archaelogical investigation is that the biblical exodus is without historical foundation and the effort has largely been given up.
    Meyers, Carol (2005). Exodus. Cambridge University Press.
    Dever, William (2001). What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and When Did They Know It?. Eerdmans.
    Of course, who knows what the next hundred years may bring.

  74. #74 Blaine
    January 24, 2014

    The book _The Pony Fishes Glow(http://www.amazon.com/The-Pony-Fishs-Glow-Purpose/dp/0465072836) and others like it, point out how incredibly inept the grand designer must have been if ID is correct.

    If you’ve ever studied physiology and endocrinology, you know how often the side effects of biochemical processes reate adaptive dependencies in other biochemical processes. Post-hoc, one wonders at the amazing complexity of such a design, but propter-hoc, one would see what a complete accident it all was.

  75. #75 Lenoxus
    January 24, 2014

    Why do they get to propose an “unbounded” or “maximal” intelligence while we’re not allowed (or rather, are too empirical) to propose “unbounded” evolutionary processes? That’s an extension of this blog post’s point, in a way.

    To Sean Pitman, whose response I missed earlier: My comment about thermodynamics was partly tongue-in-cheek and partly not. It is my understanding that bringing something dead back to life, no matter how much energy was around, really would violate thermodynamics, and not just “folk thermodynamics”, though I’m not sure about that. I may be guilty of mixing up textbook analogies (like broken glass reconstituting itself) with actual consequences of the laws.

    I am confident that not even a god could violate thermodynamics (unless perhaps we live in a simulation, in which case we would merely be seeing a compelling illusion of violating thermodynamics). If bringing someone back to life from total-brain-death does not in fact do so, then I retract an assertion of its total impossibility for any entity.

    Anyway, it is a major anti-evolutionist misunderstanding of thermodynamics that it can be “circumvented” or “overcome” with intelligence. Indeed, the inability of engineers to do so, no matter how clever their designs, is part of what informed the discovery of those laws in the first place. In short, the laws are genuinely absolute, and neither evolution nor biological growth violates them.

    Wronger still is the notion that DNA could somehow “prime” an organism to break those laws; it’s like positing a gene that would enable an organism to walk through walls. Now, if you want to say that God miraculously assists each and every seed and zygote on its way to “breaking thermodynamics” and becoming an adult, go ahead; very few people will be as picky as I am and deny God that ability, though many people will still deny God in general.

  76. #76 eric
    January 24, 2014

    Thus, that an unbounded intelligence can produce unboundedly complex structures, and do so for a purpose, is not unreasonable;

    This is unfounded. Every single observation of the function of intelligence we’ve ever had confirms that it obeys physical laws, it does not break them. There is no evidence that any intelligence can break the laws science has discovered. So to posit an intelligence that can break them is unwarranted. The conclusion our experience supports is that any intelligence, however unbounded, is still limited by the laws of physics.

    No intelligence has ever broken the 2LOT in our experience. Or the 1LOT. Or the 3LOT. Do you dispute this? If not, then how can you possibly claim any evidence for an unbounded intelligence? There is no evidence any such thing exists, and no observable that supports this claim.

  77. #77 Ça alors!
    January 25, 2014

    “Every single observation of the function of intelligence we’ve ever had confirms that it obeys physical laws, it does not break them.”

    Well, Iit wouldn’t be wise for Intelligence to break natural laws..! Especially if Intelligence has to evolve in a physical world… That doesn’t mean ID is right and Evolution wrong, au contraire.

    If Intelligence (I would prefer Awareness) is the Uncaused Cause, well, it doesn’t need to design anything in advance. It just need to go with the flow, and the nature of awareness itself can only lead to a path where Nature tries its best, through Evolution, to build the best self-aware organic machines ever… and ever… and ever…

  78. #78 sean samis
    January 25, 2014

    John asked, “When did creationism acquire the name ID?

    This is from Wikipedia’s entry for Intelligent Design, but I think it’s pretty accurate:

    The intelligent design movement was developed by a group of American creationists who revised their argument in the creation–evolution controversy to circumvent court rulings such as the United States Supreme Court’s Edwards v. Aguillard decision [1987], which barred the teaching of creation science in public schools on the grounds of breaching the separation of church and state. The first publication of the phrase intelligent design, in its present use as an alternative term for creationism, occurred in Of Pandas and People, a 1989 textbook intended for high school biology classes.

    Footnotes omitted

    The text book mentioned, Of Pandas and People (which I have a copy of) was originally written as a classical creationist text until the Edwards decision. In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District [2005] the courts found that the authors of that “text book” simply made “find-and-replace” changes to the text to replace references to God with references to an “intelligent designer”.

    sean s.

  79. #79 Lenoxus
    January 25, 2014

    sean:

    In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District [2005] the courts found that the authors of that “text book” simply made “find-and-replace” changes to the text to replace references to God with references to an “intelligent designer”.

    Conveniently, we even have a fossil remnant of this evolutionary transition, indicating that the find-and-replace process was manual. On one page, the text refers to cdesign proponentsists (italics and bolding added by me).

    Somewhere in ideaspace is a poor old overwritten reation, drifting and derelict.

  80. #80 Lenoxus
    January 25, 2014

    sean:

    In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District [2005] the courts found that the authors of that “text book” simply made “find-and-replace” changes to the text to replace references to God with references to an “intelligent designer”.

    Conveniently, we even have a fossil remnant of this evolutionary transition, indicating that the find-and-replace process was manual. On one page, the text refers to cdesign proponentsists (italics and bolding added by me).

    Somewhere in ideaspace is a poor old overwritten reation, drifting and derelict.

  81. #81 Ça alors!
    January 26, 2014

    “There is no evidence any such thing (unbounded intelligence) exists, and no observable that supports this claim.”

    Wouldn’t be logical that if such a thing exists, we wouldn’t be able to observe it since we are ourselves intelligence in action and just like an eye can’t look at itself, we cannot look at intelligence since it is within us and it is not material. Also, because it isn’t material, it would explain why it doesn’t have to deal with 2LOT, 1LOT, 3LOT, etc…

    Of course, to deny this you have to presume that our senses can grasp anything and that everything somehow can be reduced to matter.

    But that can only be an assumption…

  82. #82 Lenoxus
    January 26, 2014

    Ça alors!:

    Wouldn’t be logical that if such a thing exists, we wouldn’t be able to observe it since we are ourselves intelligence in action and just like an eye can’t look at itself, we cannot look at intelligence since it is within us and it is not material.

    Eyes are perfectly capable of perceiving other eyes, and also themselves, thanks to mirrors. Why would we be unable to perceive a vast external intelligence? I would think that in particular, an all-powerful entity must have the power to make its presence known, right?

    Of course, to deny this you have to presume that our senses can grasp anything and that everything somehow can be reduced to matter.

    That may or may not be the case. But if there are in fact things “beyond our senses”, then how can we possibly know anything about them? Any avenue of finding out about something necessarily involves “the senses”, even if it is a “something” that beams itself directly into the human mind.

    By extension, if “non-material things” exist, they may or may not be perceptible, but if they aren’t, then anything we say about them is based on complete speculation, and always will be.

  83. #83 Sean Pitman
    January 26, 2014

    sean samis:

    When Scott called that “question-begging” in #29, your replied that “It would be begging the question if there were no evidence to support this assertion. The fact is, there is very good evidence to support this assertion – as already noted.”

    Can you please cite for us some of this “very good evidence to support” your assertion that “humans can create machines on far higher levels of functional complexity than can be produced by random mutations/natural selection, or any other mindless mechanism for that matter.” The existence of this evidence has been claimed, but I don’t see it here.

    I’m talking about what can actually be observed in a given span of time. Intelligent humans can create very complex machines in a very short period of time. RM/NS cannot do anything remotely comparable in a similar amount of time. In fact, RM/NS has never been directly observed to produce anything qualitatively new beyond very very low levels of functional complexity (i.e., nothing requiring more than 1000 specifically arranged amino acid residues).

    That is why intelligent design is clearly superior as a creative force and has no theoretical limit to future progress depending upon levels of functional complexity – as is the case for RM/NS.

  84. #84 Sean Pitman
    January 26, 2014

    Michael Fugate:

    I will grant that something intelligent could in principal design and execute living things, but the diversity of life on earth in no way would have us think it was designed by any such intelligence.

    If someone wishes me to take a designer seriously, then he or she must say who the designer is and how this is known, what it is exactly that the designer designed and built, and how the building was done.

    Then I suppose SETI science isn’t a real science? – since the requirement to know the identity, motives, and methods of the designer of “artificial” radiosignals isn’t listed as a requirement for success by SETI scientists.

    You see, even you would be able to tell that something artificial, like a highly symmetrical polished granite cube, measuring one meter on each side, was in fact intelligently designed – even if such a cube were found on an alien planet like Mars. You’d be able to determine this without first having to meet the designer(s) or have any knowledge of the motives involved or even the methods or tools used to create the artifact. These bits of information simply aren’t a requirement to detect intelligent design beyond such artifacts…

  85. #85 Sean Pitman
    January 26, 2014

    Lennox:

    My comment about thermodynamics was partly tongue-in-cheek and partly not. It is my understanding that bringing something dead back to life, no matter how much energy was around, really would violate thermodynamics, and not just “folk thermodynamics”, though I’m not sure about that. I may be guilty of mixing up textbook analogies (like broken glass reconstituting itself) with actual consequences of the laws.

    Your scenario would not in fact violate the 2LoT, which is about the useful thermodynamic energy of a system, not the structure of machines or human bodies within the system. This is a common misunderstanding of the 2LoT among both creationists and evolutionists, but it is a misconception none-the-less. Informational entropy is a related, but a distinctly different concept from the 2LoT. Therefore, raising a body to life would not violate the 2LoT and more than creating the Space Shuttle violates the 2LoT.

  86. #86 sean samis
    January 26, 2014

    I asked (in #51) Sean Pitman to cite for us some of his “very good evidence to support” for his assertions.

    He replied (#83) that he’s “talking about what can actually be observed in a given span of time.”

    Given that humanity’s only been looking for evolution for two centuries, the lack of observation is unremarkable. If a newly evolved creature were directly observed, how would we know it was newly evolved? How would people 500 years ago have known it?

    Darwin’s famous book was published just some 150 years ago; the IDEA of evolution is just over 200 years old. Evolution is a process that takes much longer to manifest changes obvious to the casual observer; that evolutionary change in macroscopic creatures has never been “directly observed” is unremarkable.

    Only an observation in a lab could do that even now; does Pitman accept the validity of such observations? Or do they need to be “in the wild” as some creationists insist?

    Bottom line: he cites no evidence. He needs to retract the claim or cite the evidence.

    Pitman continued on:

    Intelligent humans can create very complex machines in a very short period of time. RM/NS cannot do anything remotely comparable in a similar amount of time. In fact, RM/NS has never been directly observed to produce anything qualitatively new beyond very very low levels of functional complexity

    Evolution does not need to be as fast as humans to occur; speed in comparison to humans is irrelevant.

    Again: Pitman makes grand claims which remain unsubstantiated.

    Sean Pitman also wrote (#84) “I suppose SETI science isn’t a real science?

    SETI isn’t science; it’s an attempt to communicate with hypothetical extraterrestrial intelligences. It’s interesting, but not really science. If the project ever succeeds then science can begin: trying to understand those who have answered our call. But until then, no: SETI isn’t science.

    Pitman gave his reply (above) to this challenge from Michael Fugate:

    If someone wishes me to take a designer seriously, then he or she must say who the designer is and how this is known, what it is exactly that the designer designed and built, and how the building was done.

    An I.D. is very, very different from an E.T. No one claims to have proven the existence of an E.T. Pitman, et al. claim evidence that their I.D. exists; yet they are very cagey about saying anything specific about their I.D. This is because either

    1. their I.D. is some living creature which came into existence by natural processes—meaning evolution produced them or
    2. their I.D. is some god and their idea is revealed to be religion.

    I don’t expect Pitman, et al. to ever acknowledge the need to explain what their I.D. is or where it evolved.

    sean s.

  87. #87 Michael Fugate
    January 26, 2014

    Sean, when you find that polished granite cube on an exoplanet somewhere, let me know. For now we have a universe void of polished granite cubes, except on earth where we know they are made by humans.

  88. #88 sean samis
    January 26, 2014

    Micheal Fugate’s comment is quite right. When someone produces evidence of an Intelligent Designer (or a god) we will all have to sit up and take notice. But until then, we get on with our life and work.

    sean s.

  89. #89 Scott
    January 26, 2014

    Re. Polished Granite & William Paley-Pitman’s “Argument from Design”:

    Once again, I find myself wondering at what point rational argument no longer remains worthwhile as well as why so many people don’t understand what a question-begging argument is or why such arguments are defective. I do not accuse anyone of being irrational here, only certain lines of argument as being defective. While I continue to question the point of persisting in arguing against defective reasoning when it is time-worn and has repeatedly been adequately critiqued for roughly two centuries, I am persuaded by the responses to my meta-query that the following comment is worthwhile, since even if it introduces nothing novel it reiterates something important. In addition, my previous incarnation as a geology student and later as a philosophy professor has had its interest piqued by a particular example used above.

    Sean P, a lot of people or a very bored deity must be very busy grinding and polishing the perfect facets of what geologists mistakenly regard as naturally occurring mineral crystals and very busy carefully fusing staurolite (etc) crystals into crystal-twins so they appear to be Christian crosses. (Shall we call these cruciform twinned staurolite crystals “Christ-als”?) Pardon my sarcasm … but really? Sean P, do you really mean to imply that what some of us thought were naturally formed crystals (and here I am quoting in part from a Sean P entry above) are “artificial, like a highly symmetrical polished granite cube, measuring one meter on each side, [and have] in fact [been] intelligently designed – even if such a [crystal] were found on an alien planet like Mars. You’d be able to determine this without first having to meet the [gemologist(s) or jeweler(s)] or have any knowledge of the motives involved or even the methods or [grinding & polishing] tools used to create the artifact. These bits of information simply aren’t a requirement to detect intelligent design beyond such artifacts…”

    The predicate “___ is an artifact,” in contrast to e.g. “___ is red,” does NOT represent a simple or even a complex observable quality of a physical object. No amount of inspection alone can reveal that something is an artifact. The contention that something is an artifact can reflect only a judgment, made based on inference from observable qualities along with knowledge of past encounters with what have proven (independently) to be artifacts. One cannot “see” the artificiality of a polished granite cube any more than one can see the artificiality of a perfect quartz crystal which, of course, is in truth the product of natural forces (as can be explained scientifically and demonstrated experimentally).

  90. #90 Lenoxus
    January 26, 2014

    Sean Pitman: I admire your willingness to deny an argument (in this case, that evolution specifically violates 2LOT) even when it originates from (and, if it were true, would help) your “team”. And I’m happy to see that more and more people are disavowing it and replacing it with the more defensible idea that there is a nascent general “law of information” that has yet to be fully developed by scientists.

    I’m still curious, as I asked on another of these threads, where the number 1000 in your information-based argument comes from. It seems a little too tidy.

  91. #91 Ça alors!
    January 29, 2014

    Lenoxus, you may know like me that the Superstring theory requires 11th dimensions to be coherent. That means we would have 7 dimensions we couldn’t be aware of… It is still a serious theory among the scientific community…

  92. #92 Ça alors!
    January 29, 2014

    The eye analogy cant be perfect since an eye is a material object and intelligence isn’t. So yes, jus like an eye can look at another eye, your intelligence is able to look at another intelligence. But once again, intelligence is a concept. It is not a real thing…. And somehow, we can say that it brings us back to the Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis Jason was referring to in december…

  93. #93 eric
    January 29, 2014

    The eye analogy cant be perfect since an eye is a material object and intelligence isn’t.

    The eye analogy isn’t necessary to answer your point from @81. It does not logically follow that if some entity can break physical laws, we would be unable to observe it. You are adding ‘hiddenness’ to your intelligence’s traits because (IMO) it’s the only way you can square the notion of an intelligent designer with the lack of any observation of one, but hiddenness as a trait does not logically or necessarily follow from the ‘intelligent’ trait. There is really no connection at all.

    Ironically, if hiddenness did logically follow from intelligence, no christians could be IDers, as their theology includes an intelligence that can break physcal laws and yet is an intelligence which we (according to them) have seen. Anyone claiming that we would be unable to see such an intelligence must reject the divinity of Jesus and all of the OT miracle stories, because to be true those events require an intelligence that can be seen, can be observed.

  94. #94 sean samis
    January 31, 2014

    It appears Mr. Pitman has moved on, perhaps searching for an audience that will not question his Grand Pronouncements? Putting some “Hamming distance” between himself and a real debate? Hmm. Dunno.

    What are the probabilities of those?

    sean s.

  95. #95 Sean Pitman
    January 31, 2014

    Jason Rosenhouse:

    The relevant comparison is not what human intelligence can create in the short run versus what natural selection can create in the short run. The question is what natural selection can create in the long run. Moreover, I have no idea what your metric of creativity is. When applied to problems in engineering and medicine, evolutionary algorithms routinely find solutions to problems that had eluded scientists applying other methods. The successes of breeders in modifying the form of organisms in short periods of time are likewise impressive. None of this supports the rather facile comparisons you are trying to make.

    First off, breeding isn’t primarily based on Darwinian evolution, but upon Mendelian genetics – i.e., the pre-programmed potential for variation that exists within sexually reproducing populations that doesn’t require the evolution of anything functionally new within the gene pool. It’s already there – pre-programmed. I know this concept can be confusing for many who haven’t taken or don’t remember basic biology. In fact, many of Darwin’s own observations weren’t really Darwinian in nature, but were simply observations of Mendelian variation over time.

    As far as evolutionary algorithms routinely solving problems that have eluded scientists, this only happens within very restricted regions of search space – i.e., at very low levels of functional complexity where evolutionary algorithms are very good at sifting through large numbers of variables in relatively short order. However, when it comes to solving problems that require the invention of complex machines or information systems, machines and systems that require multiple parts working together in specific arrangements, evolutionary algorithms aren’t helpful at all beyond very low levels of functional complexity because the non-beneficial search space is simply too large to be searched this side of a practical eternity of time. Now, it would be great if such an evolutionary algorithm could be creative at higher levels of functional/meaningful complexity. Such an algorithm would put human engineers, computer programmers, and authors out of business and make whomever came up with such an algorithm far far more wealthy than Bill Gates! Good luck with that…

    Of course, as previously explained, the reason for the clear limits to the creative potential for the evolutionary algorithm of RM/NS is due to the exponential decline in the ratio of potentially beneficial vs. non-beneficial in sequence space and the fact that a function-based selection mechanism cannot look into the future as intelligence can.

    Your suggested solution to this problem (a nice neat little line of closely spaced steppingstones in sequence space) just doesn’t represent known reality. No such a pattern has never been identified in sequence space beyond very low levels of functional complexity. And, given what we do known about sequence space, your vision of a nice line of sequentially selectable steppingstones is very very unlikely to be found.

    In short, what we do know and can observe is that intelligent design is superior to your evolutionary algorithm beyond very low levels of functional complexity within observable time. And, there is absolutely no reason to believe that your algorithm somehow gets better beyond what can be observed given the known exponential decline of the ratio of potentially beneficial vs. non-beneficial with each step up the ladder of functional complexity. All that is left is wishful thinking and your usual appeal to “circumstantial evidence” that is based on what you think an intelligent designer would or would not do – not demonstration or statistically tenable arguments regarding the nature of sequence space or the actual creative potential of the mindless Darwinian mechanism.

    I’ll address your claims about sequence space in the Probability and Evolution post. Your remarks about intelligence, though, are an utterly breathtaking extrapolation. I can’t even imagine how you go from, “We have technology today that would have seemed miraculous to the ancients,” to “There’s no limit on what intelligence can do.”

    Your claim is especially dubious in light of the fact that there seem to be clear limits on what intelligence can do. So far as we know, intelligence cannot bring universes into being or adjust fundamental constants. Nor have we been able to create life of any sort, much less life equipped with complex biochemical machines. And since every intelligence we know of is embodied, it is not clear at all that an unembodied intelligence is even a possibility.

    I am actually quite surprised that you appear to be arguing for a theoretical limit to what intelligence can achieve given enough knowledge and technological advancement. Are you actually suggesting that the creation of biological machines, equivalent to something like a flagellar motor, is clearly beyond what human intelligence could ever achieve? – regardless of future knowledge and technological achievements? Really? Also, given our limited intelligence and creative ability, and how we clearly learn and improve over time, how can you possible argue that no form of intelligence, regardless of level or technological know how or learning or advancement, is theoretically limited to what you know how to do or can possibly imagine with your very limited brainpower? Do you really think you can define the limits of where even human intelligence can go and where learning and creative potential ends?

    Not “greater creative potential” (whatever that means). Just different creative potential. For example, the physicists tell us that matter spontaneously creates itself all the time. I am not aware of any instance of intelligent agents creating matter from nothing. As for the relative merits of natural selection versus ID, you simply ignored all the evidence I cited, briefly, at the end of this post.

    Please do cite where matter has been created from absolutely nothing. This simply hasn’t been observed. Even theoretically an “empty” vacuum isn’t exactly “nothing.” It thought to be a combination of matter and antimatter — particles and antiparticles.

    As far as your “evidences” for the creative power of natural selection, I’m sure I did miss such an argument in your post. Where was it again?

  96. #96 Cubist
    January 31, 2014

    sez sean pitman:

    Your suggested solution to this problem (a nice neat little line of closely spaced steppingstones in sequence space) just doesn’t represent known reality. No such a pattern has never been identified in sequence space beyond very low levels of functional complexity.

    Hi, Pitman! You neglected… again… to provide a usable definition of “levels of functional complexity”, such that someone who isn’t Sean Pitman could look at, say, a bacterial flagellum, and apply your definition of “levels of functional complexity” to determine the bacterial flagellum’s “level of functional complexity”.

    For that matter, you also neglected… as you have consistently done for at least a decade-plus-change… to provide any specific data regarding the “level of functional complexity” of a bacterial flagellum, or of a Zener diode, or of, well, anything at all. Come on, Pitman: If you know for a fact that “NS + RM” is incapable of generating a sufficiently high “level of functional complexity” for “NS + RM” to be the explanation for [insert biological thingie X here], shouldn’t you know what “level of functional complexity” is possessed/embodied by biological thingie X? Shouldn’t you be able to tell other folks what “level of functional complexity” is possessed/embodied by biological thingie X? So… why haven’t you ever done that, Pitman? How come your “levels of functional complexity” verbiage was, and remains to this day, inchoate and thoroughly untethered to actual objective data?

    How come you expect people to just take your word for it, when your word is so transparently vague & ill-defined?

  97. #97 Sean Pitman
    January 31, 2014

    Michael Fugate:

    Sean, when you find that polished granite cube on an exoplanet somewhere, let me know. For now we have a universe void of polished granite cubes, except on earth where we know they are made by humans.

    The principle for why you can recognize ID behind a highly symmetrical polished granite cube can be universally applied. This is in fact the basis for all sciences that deal with the detection of ID behind phenomena found in nature – to include anthropology, forensics, and even SETI (all of which are recognized as valid sciences).

    The fact is that the very same arguments could be used to detect design within biological machines as well. The only thing that’s blinding you and most others in this forum is the notion that mindless evolutionary algorithms, given a few billion years, can explain things are more artificial in nature than a highly symmetrical polished granite cube. This notion is complete nonsense given a proper understanding of sequence space – that sequentially beneficial steppingstones simply aren’t lined up in neat little rows as Dr. Rosenhouse suggests. That’s simply not how nature looks or works – without the involvement of ID.

  98. #98 Sean Pitman
    January 31, 2014

    Cubist:

    Hi, Pitman! You neglected… again… to provide a usable definition of “levels of functional complexity”, such that someone who isn’t Sean Pitman could look at, say, a bacterial flagellum, and apply your definition of “levels of functional complexity” to determine the bacterial flagellum’s “level of functional complexity”.

    I did prove the definition, both in my debate with Rosenhouse, and in this forum – i.e., the minimum structural threshold requirement needed to produce the functional system in question (a definition which is published in literature by the way).

    In other words, what is the minimum part requirement and the minimum degree of specificity of arrangement of these parts required to achieve a selectable level of the functional system in question?

    For the bacterial flagellar motility system in particular, the minimum requirement is several thousand coded amino acid residue positions in a fairly specific 3D arrangement. In other words, such a system cannot be built with a couple hundred amino acid residues – regardless of how they are arranged. That’s why multiprotein systems like this, where each protein must be specifically arranged relative to all the other proteins in the system, is far more functionally complex compared to something like a single-protein enzyme (like lactase for instance) which have a minimum requirement of no more than a couple hundred specifically arranged residues.

  99. #99 Sean Pitman
    January 31, 2014

    Scott:

    The contention that something is an artifact can reflect only a judgment, made based on inference from observable qualities along with knowledge of past encounters with what have proven (independently) to be artifacts. One cannot “see” the artificiality of a polished granite cube any more than one can see the artificiality of a perfect quartz crystal which, of course, is in truth the product of natural forces (as can be explained scientifically and demonstrated experimentally).

    I never said that past experience wasn’t important in determining the artificial nature of a given phenomenon. This isn’t inherent knowledge we’re talking about here. The detection of a true artifact requires extensive knowledge with the material in question as it relates to mindless forces of nature. Why do you think I picked the material of granite rather than an quartz or salt or pyrite crystal? Hmmm?

  100. #100 eric
    January 31, 2014

    Sean Pittman:

    when it comes to solving problems that require the invention of complex machines or information systems, machines and systems that require multiple parts working together in specific arrangements, evolutionary algorithms aren’t helpful at all beyond very low levels of functional complexity because the non-beneficial search space is simply too large to be searched this side of a practical eternity of time.

    First, this is an assertion. How do you know? How do you know what they can’t find? Aren’t you being circular – aren’t you just asserting the point you’re trying to prove? Seems to me that if you want to get out of circularity, you have to start with the assumption that this capability is possible, and then assemble independent evidence about some mechanism or force that stops it from finding solutions of a certain complexity.

    Secondly, evolutionary algorithms don’t search the entire problem space all at once. They search the problem space very close the the current solution, identify the better solution in that small space, and repeat. You are making the exact mistake Jason identified earlier – you’re confusing random search, which does take too long, with what evolution actually does.

    he reason for the clear limits to the creative potential for the evolutionary algorithm of RM/NS is due to the exponential decline in the ratio of potentially beneficial vs. non-beneficial in sequence space

    This only occurs in toy example universes where the definition of “beneficial” never changes. In the real universe, it changes over time, it changes over geographic location, it changes in response to the actions organisms take, and it changes in response to how organisms evolve. There is no exponential decline in better solutions because all organisms everywhere and everywhen are not living in your toy example space.

    in short, what we do know and can observe is that intelligent design is superior to your evolutionary algorithm beyond very low levels of functional complexity within observable time.

    You’re right, ID is superior. ID would not require inherited problems, and ID would take a solution that worked marvelously in one organism and simply plonk it down into completely unrelated other organisms. This is not what we observe in the genetic code. Your own description of the superior and relatively unlimited capability of design supports the notion that life on earth is evolved.

  101. #101 eric
    January 31, 2014

    For the bacterial flagellar motility system in particular, the minimum requirement is several thousand coded amino acid residue positions in a fairly specific 3D arrangement. In other words, such a system cannot be built with a couple hundred amino acid residues – regardless of how they are arranged.

    Here, again, you seem to be arguing against random assembly instead of what evolution actually does. Nobody is claiming the code for the flagella assembled spontaneously out of a bunch of amino acids. What evolutionary studies show is that there are very similar structures used in related organisms, so that the mutation and selection of a variation of those structures is a reasonable route to the development of a flagellum.

    You, on the other hand, keep claiming that an intelligent design is not bound by the problems and search space limitations of evolutionary mechanisms. In which case I have to ask: why the frak would a designer with so much capability and freedom to choose the ideal design for whatever job he was trying to accomplish, use the same parts and same design for a motor and for an injection needle?

  102. #102 Michael Fugate
    January 31, 2014

    The same argument could be used if “design” in nature were anything like human design, but it is not. Nature is “designed” in a way that no human intelligence would ever design anything.
    Ever seen a “totipotent” brick in a building that could also become glass or metal if need be?

    Ever going to operationally define functional complexity, Sean? No didn’t think so.

  103. #103 Michael Fugate
    February 1, 2014

    The other thing is you are claiming a designer is necessary to explain living things, but we are claiming it is not. A designer is of course sufficient to explain the apparent design, but evolution also is sufficient to do so. It would really help your cause if you could tell us who this supposed designer is and tell us how designers like this design things. See we know humans exist and we have evidence of their design – so if we find things like flaked flint or pottery shards, we can pretty safely conclude humans made them. We have never seen your hypothetical designer make an organism, cell, organelle or even a protein and until we do, evolution is a much better explanation – no matter how many times you keep bring up “design space.”

  104. #104 Scott
    February 1, 2014

    Sean Pitman, thank you for making my argument for me, though you should realize that you also retract that same argument.

    Pitman 1: “you would be able to tell that something artificial, like a highly symmetrical polished granite cube … was in fact intelligently designed – even if such a cube were found on an alien planet … You’d be able to determine this without first having to meet the designer(s) or have any knowledge of the motives involved or even the methods or tools used to create the artifact. These bits of information simply aren’t a requirement to detect intelligent design beyond such artifacts.”

    Translation: Knowledge of a designer’s motive and method is NOT necessary for recognizing the artificiality of an object, in order to infer that it is indeed an artifact.

    Pitman 2: “I never said that past experience wasn’t important in determining the artificial nature of a given phenomenon. … The detection of a true artifact requires extensive knowledge with the material in question as it relates to mindless forces of nature.”

    Translation: Knowledge of a designer’s motive and method IS necessary for recognizing the artificiality of an object, in order to infer that it is indeed an artifact.

    [The reader who is so inclined may wish to insert choice of snarky remark re. the law of non-contradiction {HERE}]

    Pitman 3: “Why do you think I picked the material of granite rather than an quartz or salt or pyrite crystal? Hmmm?”

    I think Mr. Pitman picked a cube of granite precisely because such an example begs the question of whether intelligent design is in any way “visible” or can in any way be inferred from what we can actually know about any thing, anything, or for that matter, everything. The choice of a highly polished granite cube smuggles in the knowledge that it “must” be an artifact, and that we can know it was produced by intelligence even though we might NOT “have any knowledge of the motives involved or even the methods or tools used to create the artifact.” Presumably, this is supposed to be just like the claim that a human eye “must” be the product of divine artifice, etc., etc., etc.

    Suppose a race of extraterrestrials on Planet X have frequently, for generations from time immemorial, practiced the carving and polishing of dark cubes of rock for some (perhaps decorative) use. These folks have never encountered crystals, however, for on Planet X, due to the rapidity with which all magmas cool, all rock has either microcrystalline structure or takes the form of volcanic glass. Then, on their first mission to the next planet in their system (Planet Y, I suppose), the X-lings encounter numerous very large galena (or pyrite, or halite … or Y-cube-ite) crystals littering the Y-scape. Mr. Pitman, you seem to think that it would be legitimate for the ship’s Chief Science Officer to declare, “Wow! These must have been carved by X-ling-like beings! Surely, we can see evidence of X-telligent design in these stone carvings!”

    Incidentally, Mr. Pitman’s contention, “You see, even you would be able to tell that something artificial …* was in fact intelligently designed” is of course true since, in the context, “artificial” JUST MEANS “intelligently designed.” I agree with this tautology, naturally, though it is not evidence for anything, and reflects nothing more than proper English usage. (*I have omitted the interjected phrase, “like a highly symmetrical polished granite cube, measuring one meter on each side,” in order to clarify the real and merely semantic significance of the original sentence.)

  105. #105 Sean Pitman
    February 1, 2014

    Eric:

    This only occurs in toy example universes where the definition of “beneficial” never changes. In the real universe, it changes over time, it changes over geographic location, it changes in response to the actions organisms take, and it changes in response to how organisms evolve. There is no exponential decline in better solutions because all organisms everywhere and everywhen are not living in your toy example space.

    You’re mistaken. What changes when the environment changes is the location of the steppingstones within sequence space – not the ratio of steppingstones vs. non-steppingstones. The ratio of potentially beneficial vs. non-beneficial stays the same – as do the odds of random mutations being successful at finding a new steppingstones at a given level of functional complexity.

  106. #106 Sean Pitman
    February 1, 2014

    Eric:

    Here, again, you seem to be arguing against random assembly instead of what evolution actually does. Nobody is claiming the code for the flagella assembled spontaneously out of a bunch of amino acids. What evolutionary studies show is that there are very similar structures used in related organisms, so that the mutation and selection of a variation of those structures is a reasonable route to the development of a flagellum.

    I’m not arguing for evolution from scratch. You don’t seem to grasp the concept that regardless of the steppingstone you choose in the proposed pathway of flagellar evolution, the next closest steppingstone in that pathway requires dozens of non-selectable modifications to pre-existing systems before they can work together in a selectably advantageous way. These required modifications are what represent the minimum “gap” distance in sequence space. And, the realization of dozens of required non-selectable genetic modifications would take a population the size of all the bacteria on Earth trillions upon trillions of years to realize.

    Again, you just aren’t doing the math. Why don’t you get Jason to help you?

  107. #107 Sean Pitman
    February 1, 2014

    Scott:

    Suppose a race of extraterrestrials on Planet X have frequently, for generations from time immemorial, practiced the carving and polishing of dark cubes of rock for some (perhaps decorative) use. These folks have never encountered crystals, however, for on Planet X, due to the rapidity with which all magmas cool, all rock has either microcrystalline structure or takes the form of volcanic glass. Then, on their first mission to the next planet in their system (Planet Y, I suppose), the X-lings encounter numerous very large galena (or pyrite, or halite … or Y-cube-ite) crystals littering the Y-scape. Mr. Pitman, you seem to think that it would be legitimate for the ship’s Chief Science Officer to declare, “Wow! These must have been carved by X-ling-like beings! Surely, we can see evidence of X-telligent design in these stone carvings!”

    No. One cannot detect design for materials that one has had no prior experience with. That is why I chose the material of granite because, even you would conclude ID if a highly symmetrical polished cube made out of the material of granite, in particular, were found on an alien planet – like Mars for instance. You would make this conclusion without having to see any aliens or know anything about their technology, tools, or motives. You’d be able to come to your conclusion based only on your personal experience and knowledge that the material of granite simply doesn’t interact with any known force of nature to produce highly symmetrical polished 1 x 1 x 1 meter cubes – but ID can produce such cubes by numerous methods. That’s it. That’s all you have to know to detect a true artifact of ID.

    And, this is the basis of anthropology, forensic science, and SETI science.

  108. #108 Scott
    February 1, 2014

    Sean P,

    As I said, thank you for making my argument for me; but you cannot have it both ways (one way for human artifacts, another for allegedly divine ones).

  109. #109 Sean Pitman
    February 1, 2014

    As I said, thank you for making my argument for me; but you cannot have it both ways (one way for human artifacts, another for allegedly divine ones).

    Where did I argue that God is required to explain the granite cube? Could a God make a highly symmetrical granite cube. Obviously, any God worth his salt could make such a granite cube. However, such a cube does not require God-like intelligence or creative power to explain its origin. It does, however, require intelligence, on at least the human level, to explain its origin. In other words, its origin cannot be explained by any known mindless force of nature. And, this is true regardless of one does or does not know the actual identity of the designers of the cube or their motives or methods.

    Exactly the same thing is true of a protein-based machine like a bacterial flagellar motility system. Is God-like intelligence and creative power required to explain such a machine? Of course not. However, a fairly high level of intelligence and creative power, not beyond what we humans could foreseeably achieve, is required to explain such a machine – which is certainly far beyond the powers of any known mindless mechanism, to include RM/NS, to explain this side of an eternity of time.

  110. #110 Scott
    February 1, 2014

    Sean P: “Where did I argue that God is required to explain the granite cube?”

    Now you are just being dense or you are playing games; have a nice day.

    And so we return to my original meta-inquiry …

  111. #111 MNb
    February 2, 2014

    “Again, you just aren’t doing the math.”
    Note that Sean P stubbornly clings to his god of the gaps. Even he was right here this would tell us zilch about the validity of ID. For that he needs to present us a consistent and coherent theory which makes testable predictions. As every single ID-advocate he fails to deliver.
    Once again: at best he has found a phenomenon science can’t explain. As I wrote a couple of times before science can’t explain superconductivity at relatively high temperatures either. Or some other examples: science can’t explain why we yawn and sleep
    Or why this happens:

    http://www.problempets.co.uk/media/overtounbridge.asp

    I suppose Sean P’s Intelligent Designer is pushing those dogs over when he needs a break from sustaining magnets and creating “steppingstones”.

  112. #112 eric
    February 2, 2014

    What changes when the environment changes is the location of the steppingstones within sequence space – not the ratio of steppingstones vs. non-steppingstones.

    You’re just plain wrong. When lions start hunting at night, a whole lot more mutations in coat color become beneficial. When cats are introduced to Australia, a much wider variety of mutations go from “negative” to neural or positive because the prey’s lack of defenses (against cats) means traits that used to be deleterious now, aren’t. And so on.

    regardless of the steppingstone you choose in the proposed pathway of flagellar evolution, the next closest steppingstone in that pathway requires dozens of non-selectable modifications to pre-existing systems

    Dozens? You accuse me of not doing the math but I very much doubt you are doing the biology. Show me in the literature these dozens of steps required to go from closest flagella precursor to flagella.

    Now that I think about it, you’re just proposing an argument from ignorance; ID of the gaps. Even if there are dozens of mutations required between the currently best known flagella precursor and the flagella, that could simply mean we haven’t seen an intermediate. Dozens of steps between known precursor and flagella is a negative argument, not a positive one for ID. You can’t get “therefore god” out of a negative argument. You have to show evidence for your competing hypothesis. If ID did it rather than evolution, what independent, corroborating evidence of the presence of the designer can we dig for?

    A good hypothesis allows for many independent tests, not just one. Outside of the complexity of the code itself – your negative argement against evolution – do you have any independent corroborating evidence for your hypothesis?

  113. #113 eric
    February 2, 2014

    That is why I chose the material of granite because, even you would conclude ID if a highly symmetrical polished cube made out of the material of granite, in particular, were found on an alien planet – like Mars for instance. You would make this conclusion without having to see any aliens or know anything about their technology, tools, or motives.

    I wouldn’t. I might infer life, but the existence of highly symmetrical beehives, nautilus shells, etc. on earth would make me very cautious about inferring intelligence in a stone cube.

    In any event, an inference to intelligence in such a case has much to do with believing that a non-human intelligence would act like humans. That they would choose to build stone cubes and leave them around after they are done with them. Its an hypothesis about motive and psychology. IDers seem extraordinarily circumspect about hypothesizing the psychology of their designer. We all know why – most of them think it’s the judeochristian monotheistic god, but don’t want to admit it in public. But the point is, if you want to formulate a testable ID hypothesis – an hypothesis that predicts multiple lines of independent evidence – you do in fact have to hypothesize about designer psychology. You have to put some claims out there about how your putative designer would act, if your hypothesis is true. Would he leave a biolab in orbit? Should we be digging for ruins at the south pole? Does your hypothesized designer insist on remaining hidden at all costs, and if so, why do you hypothesize that? What makes you propose that trait? Because it certainly doesn’t follow from some complexity in some genetic code.

  114. #114 Michael Fugate
    February 3, 2014

    Sean – still haven’t defined functional complexity…

  115. #115 Michael Fugate
    February 3, 2014

    Arguing that something is improbable is a mug’s game – we all can do it. Why are creationists so taken with these arguments – perhaps because as apologetics they work to convince the believer. All one need do is say is evolution is mathematically impossible, therefore a god has to exist. It is always possible to back calculate something with an actual probability of 1 because it happened and act like it was a miracle – like winning the lottery. Given that humans have 23 chromosomes, the probability of getting the exact arrangement of chromosomes in the sperm that made you is 1/2^23 or one in 8 million. The exact arrangement in the zygote one in 7 x 10^13 – imagine. God must be picking sperm and eggs, no? Or just try to fathom that two molecules x and y, bond in a chemical reaction of a molar solution – that’s really big. Yet it happens all of the time without any evidence of help from an intelligent hand.

  116. #116 Howard Brazee
    February 5, 2014

    While there are many flaws in the basic argument, the biggest flaw is that the proposed “solution” doesn’t solve anything. It only moves the starting point back. So we pick a random creator, say Brahma – now the same arguments apply to how he was created. (Or come up with a reason to pick a different creator, and we have the same issue).

  117. #117 sean samis
    February 5, 2014

    Sean Pitman; permit me a few observations.

    You write and comment a great deal about “functional complexity” which you have defined as “the minimum structural threshold requirement needed to produce the functional system in question; the minimum part requirement and the minimum degree of specificity of arrangement of these parts required to achieve a selectable level of the functional system in question”. This is a smoke screen. Evolution does not create functional complexity, it creates genetic sequences which may or may not instantiate some functional complexity.

    You comment about how large is the “sequence space” in which some functional complexity is created, and the “hamming distance” necessary to be “crossed” to succeed, but what you mean to say is the hamming distance between genetic sequences. Your argument is like Zeno’s paradox which mathematically proved that motion is not possible; and I am sure that Zeno, like you, told his skeptics to “do the math”. We see how well that turned out for Zeno; it will not turn out even that well for you.

    In truth, you simply don’t know nearly as much as you claim to know. To be able to accurately say that we know the hamming distance between target sequence A and B, and precisely what the distance is between “stepping stones” you would need to know with precision what sequence A and B are, and you would need a thorough understanding of every mutational pathway between them. But every comment you make about how large is this “sequence space” reveals how unlikely that you have any real knowledge of that vast “space”.

    You don’t know the the minimum structural threshold requirement needed to produce the functional system in question. You don’t know every possible starting sequence. You don’t know every stable precursor sequence. You don’t know the interplay of stable precursors for unrelated “functions” on functions under study.

    You comment endlessly about the sheer size of the sequence space, but those claims work against you because for you to know what you CLAIM to know, you’d have to have thorough knowledge of the properties of every point in that vast space; this is knowledge you simply don’t have. If you did, you’d be able to cite your own published research or the published research of others.

    I realize that in the arena of creationism, citations and evidence are not valued at all; but in science they are a requirement; and in this forum they are highly valued.

    Lastly, as has been stated repeatedly, you misrepresent what probabilities mean; that since some event is (in your estimation) absurdly improbable, it could not have happened. But absurdly improbable things happen every day. Simply calculate the number of ancestors you have, Mr. Pitman. It’s a huge number. Multiply that by the 7 billion humans on the planet today. What then is the probability that this 7 billion humans actually could exist? Shuffle even one pair of ancestors and millions of humans cease to be possible and millions more would exist. We are all absurdly improbable, yet here we are and no intelligent designer needs be invoked to explain that UNLESS you think the universe intended for us—JUST US—to exist; a patently absurd and arrogant idea. Do the math.

    sean s.

  118. #118 William T
    February 5, 2014

    The “no stepping stones” argument breaks assumes a static environment, but in the real world (as Darwin so painstakingly described) the environment is constantly changing and so the fitness peak naturally moves through the “function space”, and evolutionary forces are easily able to make the required steps. The key to Darwin’s insight was that such variation is intrinsically unbounded if we allow some “random variation” to be added to the genome at every point along the path (obviously he didn’t use those terms).

    Pittman’s argument of exponential decline in evolutionary power is thus simply not relevant to a dynamic environment. Darwin was at great pains to describe “evolutionary races” where there was an instability in the fitness function as seen by (competing) organisms, and thus a potentially unbounded change as they and their environment veered off through the “functional space”.

  119. #119 Phil
    February 6, 2014

    sean samis,

    “in the arena of creationism, citations and evidence are not valued at all; but in science they are a requirement; and in this forum they are highly valued”

    Then may I ask, what highly valued citiations and evidence leads science to prefer nucleic acid self-assembly over protein assembly, or vice versa?

  120. #120 eric
    February 6, 2014

    Michael Fugate:

    It is always possible to back calculate something with an actual probability of 1 because it happened and act like it was a miracle – like winning the lottery.

    I generally like the following response to any creationist claim that something is too impossible to happen:
    1. Take the absolute value of the power of their probability (i.e., if they quote you 1E-120, it’s 120)
    2. Multiply by 1.6
    3. Roll that many regular (six-sided) dice, either physically or virtually.
    4. Point out that the string you just produced is more highly improbable than their limit.

  121. #121 sean samis
    February 6, 2014

    Phil asked “ what highly valued citiations and evidence leads science to prefer nucleic acid self-assembly over protein assembly, or vice versa?

    Well, Phil; since I have not raised that topic on this thread I guess I don’t feel a need to provide citations or evidence for whatever random science question you ask. In the context of this thread, your question seems a complete non sequitur anyway.

    Sean Pitman makes claims ON THIS THREAD about things that matter ON THIS THREAD; asking him to provide citations and evidence for claims made ON THIS THREAD is one thing; random requests like yours are another.

    If someone here has claimed that fact you asked about, and claimed that it matters in this context, you should ask them for the citations and evidence. Otherwise, do your own self-education; I don’t have time to tutor you.

    sean s.

  122. #122 Phil
    February 6, 2014

    sean samis,

    I wasn’t really trying to change topics. You said that “in science [citations and evidence] are a requirement; and in this forum they are highly valued”. I was curious about how consistent those requirements actually are. The DNA first/proteins first dilemma seemed like a reasonable starting point to measure the value of evidence you mentioned.

  123. #123 Russell
    February 10, 2014

    If you find yourself in the absence of a universe , you might as well say ‘let there be light ‘

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